February 13, 2006
Strong finish excites Hughes
PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

TURIN, Italy -- Winnipegger Clara Hughes yesterday reminded everyone that she's a force to be reckoned with in female speed skating's endurance test, the 5,000 metres.

How in the name of Sylvia Burka did she do that, you ask, after finishing a disappointing ninth in the 3,000?

The answer lies in Hughes' last two laps.

After an admittedly awful start, the 33-year-old showed why she was a world-class, road race cyclist in her "previous" life, turning in times of 32.66 and 32.53 seconds.

Nobody skated faster in either of their final two laps yesterday, not even gold medallist Ireen Wust.

"I definitely didn't have awesome legs, but at the same time I'm really pumped about my last couple of laps," Hughes said. "I wanted to finish it stronger than anybody else. It's always a good indication for the 5,000 for me. I'll just be biding my time until the 25th."

That's the second-last day of the Games and the final women's long track event.

MADE HISTORY

It's Hughes' specialty, too, the race in which she made history by winning bronze in Salt Lake City to become the first Canadian to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

The track here at the Oval Lingotto isn't anywhere near as fast as Salt Lake City.

"It was just like the guys' race yesterday," Hughes said. "You had people just crawling to the line. I don't think it favoured one type over another. It's just how smooth your tempo is ... how relaxed you are."

Of course, she'd still like to get off the start line a little quicker than she did yesterday.

Hughes, though, was thrilled to see teammate and fellow Winnipegger Cindy Klassen win a bronze in her first race.

"I'm really happy for Cindy," she said. "I'm really proud that one of us made the podium. It's a great start."

Actually, Hughes won't have to wait 12 days for her next race, since she and Klassen are part of the team pursuit squad. Qualifying goes Wednesday, with the final on Thursday.

And while Dutch skaters made the first real statement of the women's competition by taking gold and silver in the 3,000, Hughes vows Team Canada will live up to its advance billing.

"They're very good at what they do. It's like Canadians in hockey," she said. "Maybe we don't have speed skating in our blood, but we're sure going to try and beat them on the day. The best of what we have is yet to come."







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