February 26, 2006
Race of her life floors Hughes
PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

TURIN -- His wife had collapsed in pain, seconds after crossing the finish line in first place, an Olympic champion.

As she lay next to the track at the Oval Lingotto, a heaving lump of agony dressed in Canadian red-and-white, Peter Guzman admits he wasn't exactly celebrating.

CONCERNED

"When I saw her lying on the ice, I was concerned," Guzman, husband of Clara Hughes, said minutes after his speed skating spouse struck gold in the women's 5,000-metres. "She can push herself so hard ... she doesn't leave anything on the ice. I was a little worried, yeah."

It turns out Guzman had nothing to worry about -- and plenty to celebrate.

The 33-year-old Hughes had simply collapsed from exhaustion after the race of her life, a race that capped two decades of training, covering two Summer and two Winter Olympic Games.

It all came to a head over 400 metres, the last lap of the most grueling race in women's skating.

This is what Hughes is known for: her ability to suffer.

"I was fighting for my life," Hughes said. "That's how I thought about it. Just getting everything out of my body."

There was a time, when Hughes was suffering from illness earlier this season, that some may have wondered if she could get her body anywhere near the podium, never mind atop it.

It reminded her husband a little of the period before the Sydney Games in 2000, when Hughes, competing in cycling, battled a case of whooping cough.

"To kind of see her Olympic dream fading ... she just persisted through all that," Guzman said. "I just really admire her for it, even though I'm her husband. I'm really proud of her. I'm just glad she got to experience this. For the gold to come along, it's extra special."

SPECIAL

Hughes says it was special, too, having her husband in the stands, sharing her finest hour as an Olympian.

"He's a rock. He's made me a better person," Hughes said. "I just wanted to see him and smile and share it with him. I'm looking forward to actually hugging him."

Hughes had other friends and family in the crowd, including her sister-in-law, who struggled to get a front-row seat for the medal presentation -- then struggled to contain her emotions.

"I cried," Vivian Guzman-Silvestri said. "It means a lot to her. She likes to give it all she can. It's her passion."

And it's led to a feat nobody else has ever accomplished: multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Hughes' career medal total is now five: two bronze from cycling in '96, a bronze from skating at Salt Lake City, a silver in the team pursuit event here -- and now, the ultimate prize.

"I still can't believe I won the Olympics," Hughes said, describing the moment as "the rapture of being alive."

"That's what I feel right now -- completely alive as a human being. It's a really beautiful moment."







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