Mon, September 23, 2013

Clara Hughes on road to Olympic history

Cyclist can become Canada's most decorated athlete

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Clara Hughes rides during a training session ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games on the Box Hill circuit, July 26, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)



LONDON - She has already used her powerful legs to carry her to the top of one sport.

Now Clara Hughes will try and reach down to try and climb to a place she can occupy alone in Canadian Olympic history.

Hughes is tied with former speedskating teammate Cindy Klassen for the most Olympic medals won by a Canadian athlete with six and a podium finish Sunday in the women’s road race will allow Hughes to make history.

Two of her six Olympic medals have been earned on the bike — a bronze in the road race and another bronze in the time trial at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Hughes, 39, is done with speedskating.

She has two more Olympic races to go in cycling, the road race Sunday and the time trial Wednesday.

“Rain, shine, I really don’t care,” she said. “I’m ready to race my bike, with (teammates) Denise (Ramsden) and Joelle (Numainville). We are ready for anything. We just survived the Thuringen Rundfahrt in Germany, I survived the women’s Giro d’Italia before that, (I have) many days of racing. The roads are similar to what we just faced in Germany. So I’m really really proud and very confident in our abilities. We are ready for anything.”

The Olympic road course is 140 kilometres, the maximum distance allowed under UCI rules, and will start and finish in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. The most demanding portion of the race will be the Box Hill circuit — popular with cyclists here since the 1880s — which includes Zig Zag Road, a 2.5-kilometre stretch which climbs 120 metres.

From the top of that climb, it is a 48-kilometre ride to the finish line.

The course is not particularly demanding but narrow roads and tight corners will open the door for some breakaway attempts and if it winds up with a sprint finish, there is a relatively flat final run-in.

Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Lizzie Armstead of Great Britain have been tabbed as the favourites for the race.

Hughes is one of five athletes to have won medals at both the Winter and Summer Games and the only person to have won multiple medals in both. Hughes won those two bronze medals in cycling in Atlanta and four medals in speedskating over three Winter Games between 2002 and 2010 (one gold, two silver and one bronze).

With a win Sunday in the road race or Wednesday in the time trial, Hughes could become just the second athlete to win gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Games, joining American Edward Eagan, who won the light heavyweight title in boxing in Antwerp in 1920 and a gold in bobsleigh in 1932.

After focusing on speedskating, Hughes’ comeback on the bike was less about whether she could do it physically. The demand for her at this point in her life was going to be if she could have the mental strength and discipline to put the time in that was necessary.

“I have no questions about my body. My body can do anything,” she said. “It’s a matter of if I’m motivated and if I still have the discipline to maintain the focus, to live the life like an athlete. I didn’t know if I still had that and it took about six months post Vancouver to make a decision and to realize I still had the capacity. Not only that I had it, but also that I could improve on it. That’s what brought me back.”

We will find out Sunday exactly what she’s got for that day and if it’s enough to make Canadian Olympic history.

ATHLETES WHO HAVE WON MEDALS IN BOTH SUMMER AND WINTER OLYMPICS

Clara Hughes, Canada — Cycling, two bronze; Speedkating Gold, two bronze, silver

Christa Luding, Germany — Cycling, silver; Speedskating two gold, silver, bronze

Jacob Tullin, Norway — Sailing, silver; Ski jumping gold

Eddie Eagan, United States — Boxing gold, bobsled gold

Gillis Grafstrom, Sweden — Figure skating (summer*) gold; Figure skating (winter) two gold, silver

*Figure skating was a summer Olympic sport in 1920

CLARA HUGHES OLYMPIC CAREER

1996 Summer Games, Atlanta — Bronze in cycling road race; Bronze in cycling time trial

2002 Winter Games, Salt Lake City — Bronze 5,000-metre speed skating

2006 Winter Games, Turin — Silver speed skating team pursuit; Gold speed skating 5,000 metres

2010 Winter Games, Vancouver — Bronze speed skating 5,000 metres

CANADA'S MOST DECORATED OLYMPIANS

6 — Cindy Klassen, speed skating (gold, two silver, three bronze)

6 — Clara Hughes, Speed skating, cycling (gold, silver, four bronze)

5 — Marc Gagnon, short track (three gold, two bronze)

5 — Francois-Louis Tremblay, short track (two gold, two silver, bronze)

5 — Phil Edwards, Athletics (five bronze)

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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