SLAM!Sports
February 13, 2006
Klassen will take it
Gutsy showing ends in bronze
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

TURIN, Italy -- The reigning world champ, relegated to third place.

The world record holder in the distance, beaten out for the gold medal by a relatively unknown 19-year-old.

A complete disaster for Cindy Klassen and the long track speed skating team, right?

Not so fast.

No, yesterday's bronze medal in the 3,000 metres wasn't the ultimate start for someone projected to be Canada's queen of the Games.

But don't for a minute think this was a disaster to be added to the country's list of Olympic flubs.

The 26-year-old Winnipegger didn't turn in her best race, that's true.

After a blazing start, she ran out of gas, unable to chug through the slow ice at the Oval Lingotto as well as gold medallist Ireen Wust and silver winner Renate Groenewold, both of the Netherlands.

WELL PAST EMPTY

Despite nearly losing it on the final turn and crossing the finish line with her needle well past empty, Klassen still managed to hit the podium. Kind of like the football team that commits five turnovers and still squeaks out a victory.

Fact is, Klassen may have shown more guts in yesterday's bronze-medal performance than she's shown all season.

"I started off pretty hard at the beginning, and I paid for it at the end," she said. "At the end of the race, sometimes your mind is screaming at you. You just want it to be over, because you're hurting so badly. This race ... I was ready for it to be over."

She couldn't wait to get started, either. Skating two pairs after Wust posted the time to beat, Klassen was confident she could take the Dutch rookie, no problem.

"When I saw her time, I just kind of shrugged and said, 'OK, that was a good time.' But I didn't know if that was going to be the best."

After all the hype and all the waiting, Klassen burst from the gate like she'd been shot from a cannon, turning in the fastest start of the previous 14 skaters.

"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," she said. "I was nervous ... but I think that helps you to get going. When you're at the Olympics, sometimes you get a little anxious and go a little bit harder than normal. But I started off at a pace I thought I could hold."

Her coach, Neal Marshall, liked what he saw, too. Klassen was pushing hard but remained relaxed.

"But on this ice, it doesn't give you anything for free," Marshall said. "You get to the halfway point and onward, and you've got to work a bit more.

"That's probably what made her struggle in the end like that."

Klassen didn't crawl across the finish line, but it was close.

"It was trouble," she admitted. "I was lucky to get around that corner. I was a little disappointed that I died that much at the end. But ... I couldn't have gone any faster. I didn't even think it would be good enough for bronze."

BEATEN BY BETTER MUDDERS

It was -- that's how tough this race was.

This was a thoroughbred on a slow track beaten out by a couple of better mudders.

A run-and-gun football team forced to try and grind it out on a cold, windy day.

Not even German star Anni Friesinger, skating after Klassen, could challenge the leaders.

She finished fourth.

Sure, nerves probably played a role in Klassen's finish. The tighter you are, the more energy you'll expend.

"It's nice to get the first race out of the way," she said.

Not many people get an Olympic race "out of the way" by winning bronze.

You can bet that wasn't Klassen's reaction when she won her first bronze in the same event at Salt Lake City.

"It's a little different," she agreed. "Going into the last Games, I didn't even know if I was going to get a medal. This year I've been on the podium quite a bit, and so I was hoping to do well here, and I'm happy I did it."

This was one of the sport's heavyweights getting the first one out of her system. She has the team pursuit on Wednesday and Thursday, and the 1,000 on Sunday.

If Klassen goes that hard in her next four events, she may need an extra carry-on bag for the trip home.

"I left it out there," she said. "That's what I need to do in the next races. I don't want to change anything."


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