Storybook finish for Hughes
By QMI Agency
Canada's Clara Hughes wins bronze in 5,000m speed skating. (Martin Chevalier/QMI AGENCY)
RICHMOND, B.C. — This is the way it would end in the storybooks, or in the made-for-TV movie, maybe.
But in real life? Come on.
Clara Hughes was 37 years old, for heaven’s sake. Her best days were in the rear-view mirror. Besides, she had absolutely nothing left to prove. To herself, or anyone.
All she had to do was turn in a decent skate, finish top-10 and glide off into the West Coast sunset, secure in the knowledge she’s done something nobody else on the planet has.
But Hughes isn’t wired that way.
This product of north Winnipeg doesn’t know complacency, or at least associates with it as little as possible.
So the last Olympic race of her life wasn’t going to be a matter of going through the motions. It was going to be one of the best.
The result: The only person to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games finished her career where it started, in Atlanta, 14 years ago — on the podium.
Hughes won the bronze medal, the sixth Olympic medallion of her career, in the last Olympic race of her career, Wednesday’s 5,000-metre speed skating event.
“It was truly awesome,” Hughes said. “It’s one of the best races I’ve ever had in my life, and I did it at the Olympics in Canada. I’m really proud of that.”
Skating before her mother, Maureen, for the first time at this level, Hughes said she drew inspiration from other Canadian athletes, including figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — who won gold in ice dance — and Joannie Rochette, who competed in the short program two days after the death of her mother.
“If she can do that when she’s in so much pain and sorrow … I have got nothing against me,” Hughes said. “Seeing someone overcome that is just amazing.
“I really drew a lot from watching (Virtue and Moir). They were just within the moment, and enjoying what they did. And just seeing Jon Montgomery (skeleton gold winner) just love what he was doing, and be himself. The best thing I could do was just bring myself out here, and that’s what the other Canadian athletes showed me. There’s been some incredible stories in these Games. I’m so very proud to be a part of this team.”
With her sixth Olympic medal — she won two in cycling in Atlanta — Hughes joins Cindy Klassen as the most decorated Olympians in Canadian history.
“She’s so good at performing at the big competitions,” said teammate Kristina Groves, who finished sixth. “She’s done that so many times. And she did it again. For her to finish her career with another Olympic medal is phenomenal.”
Hughes said the key was not thinking about the podium at all.
“It’s a nice bonus to have earned one of those beautiful medals,” she said. “But I’m more proud of how I got myself to this rink. I was focused and I was ready and I just enjoyed the beautiful movement of speed skating for the last time in my life. I feel like I brought my best because of that. Because I didn’t think about what a great ending it would be, or could be.”
Upon winning bronze, Hughes drew a raucous ovation during a victory lap with a Canadian flag, blowing kisses to her mother along the way.
Czech skater Martina Sablikova and German Stephanie Becker — two skaters much younger than Hughes — won gold and silver, respectively.
“But I didn’t skate too bad for an old lady,” Hughes said.
No, not bad at all.