Canada built for speed

Manitoba six-pack leads way to Vancouver

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI AGENCY

Brittany Schussler is going to her second Olympics -- but this one counts.

The 24-year-old Winnipeg speed skater was an alternate in Turin four years ago, when her friend and roommate, Cindy Klassen, made history.

Next month in Vancouver, Schussler gets a chance to carve out some of her own, as part of Canada's Olympic team.

"It's so surreal," Schussler said from Calgary yesterday. "You dream of it your whole life, and for it to finally happen... it's amazing. I'm so excited.

"Even though you know you have it in you to make it and it's possible, it's still kind of shocking when you do."

Schussler is one of six Manitobans on the 16-person team, officially named yesterday at the Calgary oval.

Leading the way, experience-wise, is five-time Olympian (three Winter, two Summer) Clara Hughes, who won gold in the 5,000 metres in Turin.

Joining Hughes and Schussler on the women's team are Klassen, the five-time medalist in Turin, and Shannon Rempel, who's going to her second Games. All are from Winnipeg.

On the men's team are Winnipeg's Mike Ireland, in his third Winter Games, and Kyle Parrott of Minnedosa, an Olympian for the first time.

The strong Manitoba contingent bolsters a powerful lineup that's expected to add plenty to Canada's medal haul.

Schussler, who's won three medals on the World Cup circuit over the last two years, will be on the women's pursuit team, along with Christine Nesbitt and Kristina Groves, the Ontario-born stars of Team Canada.

Those three set a world record in pursuit at a World Cup event in Calgary in December. They also won gold at the world championship in 2008.

Nesbitt, of London, Ont., and Groves, of Ottawa, have dominated the 1,000- and 1,500-metre events on the World Cup circuit this season.

B.C. product Denny Morrison is the strongest medal contender on the men's side.

Klassen, 30, is trying to come back from double knee surgery and remains a medal long shot.

Ireland, 35, finished seventh in the 500 metres in his two previous Olympic appearances.

Rempel, a 25-year-old sprinter, finished 16th at the Turin Games.

Hughes, 37, has five career Olympic medals, two in cycling and three in skating.

Hughes is Speed Skating Canada's nominee to be the country's flagbearer at the opening ceremonies.

"It would be amazing," said Hughes. "If it's not me, it's going to be an amazing athlete ... if it was me, I would be over the moon."

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

THE SUPER SIX

Manitoba Speed Skaters

Heading to Vancouver

- Clara Hughes, 5th Olympics, 3,000m, 5,000m

- Cindy Klassen, 3rd Olympics, 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m

- Mike Ireland, 3rd Olympics, 500m

- Shannon Rempel, 2nd Olympics, 500m, 1,000m

- Brittany Schussler, 1st Olympics, 1,000m, 1,500m, Team Pursuit

- Kyle Parrott, 1st Olympics, 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m.

POLL