Canada's Hughes becomes
Summer/Winter Games medallist
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
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
"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
for the Advancement of Women and Sport
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