Time catches up with Klassen
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
Canadian speedskater Cindy Klassen catches her breath after competing in the women's 3,000-metre long-track event at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games Sunday February 14, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
RICHMOND, B.C. - This is not the picture of Cindy Klassen anyone wanted to see.
Bent over at the waist. Barely moving. The world-record holder and the multi-medal winner from Turin so spent she was unable to acknowledge the non-stop applause that was all around her at the remarkable Richmond Olympic Oval Sunday.
A great moment and a telling moment at the same time: The amazing Klassen, defeated by time, training and a body that couldn’t hold up, finishing 14th in a race in which she was on the podium four years ago.
“My legs were killing,” she said after the 3,000 metres event, still excited by her introduction to an Olympics at home. “I died at the end.
“I went out and laid it all out there. It got to me. I’m pretty exhausted. It was a tough race. I was pretty tired at the end.”
At the end, she almost looked ill and at the beginning she cried. One thing Canadian athletes are finding out here: They are being supported at these Games like never before. Emotionally, that is both engaging and somewhat intimidating.
“I’m so thankful for this,” Klassen said, the tears welling. She didn’t cry after any of her five medal wins in Turin, at least not publicly. She was so overwhelmed by the support Sunday that before she took her place to begin the race, tears ran down her cheeks.
“I’m so grateful to be here,” said Klassen, knowing how far she’d come from double-knee surgery just to arrive at the Olympics at home. “I didn’t even know if I could qualify for the Olympics.” On Sunday, she skated on the slow Richmond track , starting too fast, ending too slow, in a time of 4:15.53, almost 23 seconds off her world-record time.
While Klassen was nowhere near contention, Canadian flag bearer Clara Hughes demonstrated once again why she is one of the bravest athletes in the history of this country. In what is certain to be her last Olympics and in an event that is not her specialty, Hughes skated an incredible race. She was 20th after her first lap, then eighth, then fifth, and when she finished, she sat second. Her second-place finish didn’t hold up: She ended up fifth — with a performance worthy of a medal.
“I couldn’t have gone any faster,” she said. “That is my ability.”
She was smiling, talking about her day, the crowd. And everyone was smiling with her.