Following Canadian Women to
Salt Lake City

February 23, 2002

Canada's Hughes becomes
Summer/Winter Games medallist

The speed skaters sent the records falling again in the 5,000-metre race at the Utah Olympic oval Saturday.

Clocking in with a record-breaking time of 6:46.91 minutes, Germany's Claudia Pechstein easily claimed gold, and Gretha Smit of the Netherlands moved at world-record pace to claim silver.

Winnipeg's Clara Hughes also set a unique record of her own. With her bronze-medal performance, she became the first Canadian and only the fourth athlete ever to win medals at both the Winter and Summer Games.

"I'm so happy, I feel like I'm going to throw up," a giddy Hughes told CBC after the race. "I just had to go out there and do it. I had the race of my life."

Christa Luding-Rothenburger, competing for East Germany, won four speed skating medals between 1984 and 1992. She also won silver in the match sprint cycling event in 1988, making her the only athlete to win both winter and summer medals in the same year.

Hughes crossed the line with a time of 6:53.53 -- just over the old standard set by Germany's Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann, who is taking the season off to have a baby.

Hughes also won two bronze medals in cycling -- one in the road race and the other in the time trial -- at the 1996 Atlanta Games. An 18-time Canadian cycling champion, she also competed at the 2000 Sydney Games, but suffering from a bad cold, she finished out of the medals.

"A year ago, I thought about this race, and I thought my dream would be to be on the podium," she told the CBC after the race. "I shared that dream with my coach and my husband and those were the only two people. The three of us knew that it was possible, and I just had to go out there and have the race of my life."

Following a 10-year break from the sport, Hughes returned to speed skating in 2000. The next year, she was forced to make a decision between her cycling and skating careers. She eventually decided to commit fully to skating having competed in both sports for a season. After only seven weeks, Hughes made the national speed skating team and qualified for last season's final three World Cup events.

"I still need to learn how to skate, I have so much to learn," she said. "I just feel like the sky is the limit and this is just the beginning."

Smit, the first to race, left very little room for anyone to even try and match her astonishing pace. The 26-year-old skater clocked in with a record-breaking time of 6:49.22 minutes. But Pechstein managed to better this time by 2.31 seconds with a strong finishing kick, sending Smit to second place.

Germany's Anni Friesinger, who was expected to do well in this event, placed sixth. Friesinger won gold in the 1,500m, but was expected to be a threat to sweep the 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m, having gone through the current World Cup season undefeated at those distances.

Pechstein, 31, became the second speed skater to ever win three consecutive Olympic titles, winning gold in the 5,000m distance at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Games. A six-time Olympian, she also won bronze in the 5,000m in Albertville, bronze in the 3,000m in Lillehammer and silver in the 3,000m in Nagano. At these Games, Pechstein also won gold in the 3,000m with a time of 3:57.70.

Smit, a former marathon skater, finished 11th in the 3,000m with a time of 4:07.41. A relative dark horse in this field of veterans, she surprised almost everyone with her powerful, fast skate.

Winnipegs's Cindy Klassen, who won bronze in the 3,000m and finished fourth in the 1,500m, clocked in with a time of 6:55.89 minutes to place fourth again, capping a banner Olympics..

"I'm really happy with that (finishing fourth Saturday)," Klassen said. "Mentally it's such a hard race. I tried to stick to my gameplan and did the best I could."

Ottawa's Kristina Groves also put the finishing touches on a very successful Games with her tenth-place result in a time of 7:07.16 minutes.

The world record has been broken in eight of ten events at the Salt Lake City Games.

reprinted with permission


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