Pride 'n' joy

TURIN, Italy -- Speed-skating legend Anni Friesinger admitted after the race she thought Cindy Klassen would be faster.

So did race winner Ireen Wust.

As a matter of fact, pretty much all of Canada expected more yesterday from the long-track speed queen who, by all accounts, should leave these Games the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history.

Unlike four years ago when the former hockey player became the toast of the nation with Canada's first medal of the Salt Lake Games, her bronze in the same 3,000-metre event yesterday somehow felt like a bit of a letdown.

One day after Jennifer Heil struck gold with a much-needed shot in the arm that chef de mission Shane Pearsall likened to scoring a big early goal, Canadians spent their Sunday morning waiting to see who would be the next hero.

After months of warranted hype, cross-country darling Beckie Scott finished sixth.

Mathieu Turcotte missed the 1,500 short-track speed skating final in which Charles Hamelin finished fourth.

Canadian downhillers made like the lugers, finishing above expectations but nowhere near the medals.

Then came Klassen, who would surely get Canada back on track for its 'best-ever Games.'

The current 3,000 record-holder, who was touted by most to medal in all five events she'll enter, few actually stopped to think the first one might not be gold.

Oh, the horror.

As was clear by the fact she stumbled and almost fell as part of her desperate attempt to try catching silver medallist Renate Groenewold in the final turn, she admitted afterwards she simply ran out of steam.

Yes, as opposed to the heroic bronze she won a year ago out of the blue, the perception is she literally stumbled into yesterday's third-place prize.

It didn't feel nearly as good.

And while the delightful Winnipeg native claimed to be happy with the reward, she made it clear she didn't plan to spend any time celebrating it.

"I want to look forward to the next race," she said, referring to the inaugural Olympic Team Pursuit event, in which her squad is a favourite.

None of this is to lessen her accomplishment or denigrate her performance.

It's just the backdrop to yesterday's race was one of expectation matched only by those for the hockey team.

Right or wrong, the feeling yesterday was she lost the gold as opposed to winning the bronze.

It was so much sweeter four years ago when she entered the race a longshot and finished a hero by single-handedly showing her Canadian teammates the way.

Now, she had better win a record four or five or we'll ask: What went wrong?

The good news is her best event -- the 1,500 -- and her favourite event -- the 1,000 -- are yet to come.

The bad news is, anything but gold will prompt more curious looks and a fear Canada's potential Golden Girl of the Games, counted on for one-fifth of our targeted 25 medals, is, well human.

Those who haven't watched a speed skating race in four years will react to a second bronze by questioning her nerves, her preparation, her ability, her toughness. Some will call her "a typical Canadian Olympian."

All would be a mistake.

Klassen proudly won bronze yesterday to keep Canada ahead of Estonia in the medal count.

She also did her part to sustain a level of team momentum no other Canadian could.

Expecting more from someone isn't a crime.

Diminishing her accomplishments is.