Relax, it's just speed skating

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 PM ET

She's won Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. She's claimed a speed skating world championship.

But Clara Hughes says she can be better.

After capturing a spot on Canada's World Cup team in the 1,500 metres yesterday at the Olympic Oval, the 32-year-old from Glen Sutton, Que., said the world still hasn't seen her at her best.

"I feel like it's just the beginning, it really is," said Hughes, who finished second yesterday in the Canadian team trials, behind Ottawa's Kristina Groves, a good friend of hers.

"I want my best at the Olympics (in 2006), that's my goal and I'm on track for that.

"This is a good start."

Groves, who was pre-qualified for the team, finished in one minute 58.29 seconds, while Hughes finished in personal-best time of 1:58.62. Winnipeg's Shannon Rempel was third in 1:59.19.

After quitting competitive cycling following the 2003 Pan-Am Games so she could focus solely on speed skating, Hughes feels like she's reborn after coming off a back injury last year to win last season's 5,000m world championship.

"This year, I can breathe a little more and just really enjoy the process," she said.

"It was a really hard three years since the Sydney Olympics doing both sports. Last season was like, 'OK, I can get through the season and have one good race', which I did at worlds but I struggled with everything else."

Hughes is the only Canadian to claim a medal at both Summer and Winter Olympics after winning a speed-skating bronze in Salt Lake to go with two cycling bronze medals in Atlanta (1996).

Part of her new lease on speed skating came because she took some time off earlier this year.

"For one thing, I actually had a break. I had a month after the skating season where I didn't really do anything except go for walks," said Hughes.

"I really needed that physically but moreso mentally. Instead of feeling like I've got to get ready for cycling and I have to qualify for this or that, I started feeling like I could just relax."

In the summer, she did some high-altitude training, lifted more weights and really got mentally focused for the upcoming season, which should be her best on skates.

In addition to Groves, Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen and Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., also pre-qualified in the 1,500.

They'll be joined by Hughes and 19-year-old Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg after Rempel turned down her spot because she wants to concentrate on the sprints.

In the men's 1,500, Red Deer's Jeremy Wotherspoon posted the fastest time, clocking a 1:47.16, but he'll politely decline the spot and focus on the sprints.

Fort St. John, B.C.'s Jay Morrison, Calgary's Arne Dankers and Red Deer's Steven Elm were pre-qualified. They'll be joined on the World Cup team by Morrison's brother Denny and Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask.

Denny had a time of 1:48.16, while Parker finished in 1:48.60.

The trials continue today with the women's 5,000m and the men's 10,000m. Action starts at 1 p.m.


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