Klassen ready to carry load

It's far too early, not to mention unfair, to say Cindy Klassen will carry the weight of a nation on her shoulders in Turin.

She might want to get prepared, though, for the added load she'll be lugging over to Italy, come the Winter Olympics.

The Winnipeg speed skater with the red hair and big smile will not only be a gold-medal favourite, she's a real threat to win more than one.

Of the five events she'll enter (the 1,000, 1,500, 3,000, 5,000 and team pursuit), Klassen is a medal contender in at least four.

So, yes, February will bring a few expectations for the 26-year-old, as sure as it'll bring some chilly temperatures to her home town.

Given this country's occasional Olympic stumble in the past, you'd expect Klassen to shudder at the prospect.

Instead, she offers a simple shrug.

"I'm just trying to remember I'm doing the best that I can," Klassen told Sun Media. "It's the same distances I've been racing my whole career, the same people I've been racing against. Just try to stay focused on that and not anything else.

"And remembering you're doing it for yourself, you're not doing it for anybody else. That's a big thing."

That said, Klassen appears geared up for The Games, showing the world she meant business the moment she got out of the starting blocks this season.

She kicked off the World Cup circuit by setting a world record in the 3,000 metres.

Next came a world record in her specialty, the 1,500. And when Germany's Anni Friesinger topped that, Klassen promptly one-upped her rival again.

"I'm satisfied with the way things have been going," she said. "And when we get to (Turin), I hope I'm completely rested and ready to go."

That preparation has included regular work with a sports psychologist, to help Klassen deal with the expected pressure.

Her coach, Neal Marshall, says it's all about perception.

"If you perceive the pressure is on you, then there will be pressure on you," Marshall said. "If you get a good perspective on it and frame it the way you want to, then you have the ability to feel as free as you want to, also."

When it gets right down to it, Klassen says she'll lean on her faith, as much as anything else.

"I believe I've been given this gift, and I want to use it to my full potential," she said.

If she does that, she'll be just fine.

Medal chances

Five World Cup podium finishes this season, including gold in the 1,500 and 3,000, suggest she's peaking at the right time.

Prediction: three medals (one gold).

One to Watch

The co-favourite in the women's 1,500m

Anni Friesinger, Germany

The defending Oly champ at this distance, Friesinger will be 29 when these Games roll around, still well within her prime skating years. This season, she and Klassen have taken turns eclipsing each other's world records, setting up a dandy showdown in Turin.

This season: five World Cup podium finishes.

Best finish: gold (twice in 1,000, twice in 1,500)

World Rankings

Women's 1,500m

Athlete Country

1. Anni Friesinger Germany

2. Cindy Klassen Canada

3. Kristina Groves Canada

4. Ireen Wust Netherlands

5. Claudia Pechstein Germany

6. Naki Tabata Japan

7. Christine Nesbitt Canada

8. Sabine Volker Germany

9. Pauline van Deutekom N'lands

10. Chris Witty USA

Other Canadians: Clara Hughes (22nd)

Note: rankings do not include this past weekend.