February 26, 2006
Olympic victory thrills 'Peggers
TAMARA KING -- Winnipeg Sun

Sylvia Burka was one proud Winnipegger as she watched speed skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen take Olympic gold and bronze, respectively, in the women's 5,000-metre race.

"That was a pretty exciting race wasn't it?" said Burka from her Toronto home.

Burka, a two-time world champion speed skater who once held the 1,000-metre cycling record, felt a special closeness to Hughes, who also has a cycling background.

"She did an incredible job. I am so thrilled. She makes it looks so easy with her long stride," said Burka, high praise from a woman who in 2000, was voted Manitoba female athlete of the 20th century for winning 21-international championships between 1967 and 1974.

'CAN'T STOP CRYING'

"I just can't stop crying," said former coach Lori Derraugh, literally choking back tears as she spoke to the Sun in the moments immediately following the double hardware haul.

"It's hard work, what they've done. It's so nice to see that hard work pay off because you never know what could happen at the Olympics. It's the highest profile (event). They can do awesome at the worlds but no one hears about it," Derraugh said.

Once a coach to both Klassen and Hughes, she was there "the first time Clara skated," Derraugh said.

Hughes' mother, Maureen, watched her daughter's victory from Winnipeg.

"I'm just overjoyed for her. The family is just so very happy for her," she told the Sun from her Winnipeg home.

The first person Hughes telephoned was her father Ken.

"She said that all through the race 'I drew on your strength' because I don't give up on anything. No matter what happens, she just digs deeper. One of her secrets to success is that she doesn't worry about things she can't control."

Having just returned from Italy, Klassen's family gathered at her parents' Winnipeg home.

"Surprisingly, it was just as nerve-wracking as being there," said Klassen's mother, Helga.

"I don't know if we were even breathing in those last few minutes," she joked.

One of the family's favourite moments came when her daughter and Hughes took the podium. "It was great to see two Canadians up there," Helga Klassen said.

A former Winnipeg Olympic speed skating medallist agrees.

"Totally amazing to see both Clara and Cindy on the podium. I was near tears at the end. Both did something that is so unique. I can't wait to see them at the world championships (next month in Calgary)," Susan Auch told the Sun from her Calgary home.

Both Hughes and Klassen got their start at the same Winnipeg club, said current Winnipeg Speed Skating Club coach Anne Mushumanski, who started speed skating around the same time as Hughes and went on to coach Klassen in the late 1990s.

Tears of joy didn't stop flowing as she watched the pair enjoy their victories yesterday morning.

"You work with these athletes for quite a few years and to see them succeed, it's just so wonderful," Mushumanski said.

"That was a great moment for Manitoba skaters and super for Clara. To break the seven-minute mark on that ice, is just fabulous," said Brian Deans, a Manitoba speed skating coach for 25 years.

Moments like yesterday morning mean a lot to speed skaters across the province, Mushumanski said.

Manitoba has very few competitive skaters -- about 150 -- and Mushumanski hopes Klassen and Hughes will draw attention to the sport, and get more people involved.







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