Manitoban ice queens led parade

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

In what is becoming a recurring theme, the amateur sports scene in 2004 belonged to Manitoba's ice queens. On rinks and speed skating ovals around the world, the province's female athletes made their mark and did us proud this year.

Speed skater and 'Peg native Clara Hughes started things off in March with a gutsy gold-medal performance in the women's 5,000 metres at the World Single Distance Championships in Seoul, Korea.

The only Canadian to medal at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Hughes pushed through the pain to collect her first world title. She was named Speed Skating Canada Female Skater of the Year for Long Track.

Cindy Klassen won silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000 at the World Single Distance Championships despite missing part of the season with a badly cut right arm from a training accident. The Canadian Sport Awards Junior Female Athlete of the Year Shannon Rempel bagged bronze at the World Junior Championships.

All three Winnipeg speed skaters picked up where they left off. In the first three World Cup events, Klassen won two golds and a silver while Hughes chipped in a gold and a silver. They also formed two-thirds of Canada's team pursuit trio which swept gold in the first two races, recognized as an official event for the first time this year.

In April, Jennifer Botterill, Delaney Collins-Pye and goaltender Sami Jo Small helped Canada win its eighth consecutive Women's World Hockey Championship, beating the U.S. 2-0 in the final in Halifax. Botterill was named MVP and all-star team forward and was the top scorer with three goals and eight assists.

Spectacular in pool

Earlier, Collins-Pye led the University of Alberta to its third consecutive CIS National Women's Hockey Championship and fourth in the last five years. Moved from defence to forward, she scored 12 goals and 24 assists in just 13 regular-season games for the Pandas and was named one of the forwards on the CIS All-Canadian First Team.

Manitoba females were also spectacular in the pool. Visually-impaired swimmer Kirby Cote was named Swim Canada female paralympic swimmer of the year after winning five gold and two silver medals at the Paralympics in Athens. Rhiannon Leier was named Swim Canada female athlete of the year after reaching the semifinals in the 100-metre breaststroke at the Olympics in Athens. She also broke the Canadian record in the event at the Olympic Trials.

Also shining internationally was racquetball player Jen Saunders. In 2004, she won the Canadian doubles championship, won the silver medals in the women's doubles and women's team at the Pan American Championships and picked up a bronze in women's doubles and silver in women's team at the World Championships.

Female athletes weren't the only ones making their mark.

Nigel Dawes started with a bang and 2005 holds much promise for the Kootenay Ice and Team Canada junior star. He was tied for the Team Canada lead with 11 points at the 2004 WJHC and led the team with six goals and scored two goals in Canada's 4-3 loss to the U.S. in the final. Next month, he and fellow Winnipeggers Cam Barker and Rejean Beauchemin will compete at the 2005 WJHC in Grand Forks, N.D.

Last season, Dawes finished fourth in the Western Hockey League in goal-scoring with 47 goals and was named the WHL's most sportsmanlike player.

Joey Johnson and Travis Gaertner teamed up to lead Canada to the gold medal in men's wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games. They were also instrumental in Manitoba winning silver at the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Association Canadian Championships.

Steinbach's Gerald Muizelaar helped Canada win silver at the ISF Men's World Softball Championship in Christchurch, N.Z. Muizelaar threw a two-hitter in a 7-0 victory over Australia in the semifinal and started the final game against New Zealand.

The oddest individual achievement was that of archer Derek Hird. The 18-year-old captured his second consecutive International Bowhunters Organization 3D Archery World Championships in Snowshoe, W. Va.

After his opponent drilled his last shot dead centre of the target for a perfect score of 11, Hird split his opponent's arrow for the win.

History was made in 2004 involving Manitoba-based teams.

The Brandon Wheat Kings beat Quebec's Charles-Lemoyne Riverains 2-1 in overtime in the gold medal final to win Manitoba's first medal at the National Midget Hockey Championships in Kenora.

Football Manitoba's provincial under-17 team beat Southern Ontario 25-24 to win the bronze medal at the inaugural Under-17 Football Canada Cup in Kitchener, Ont. Running back Joe Holder accounted for all 25 points in the bronze-medal game.

Led by Prairie Football Conference coach of the year Mike Watson and Canadian Junior Football League executive of the year Gord Cook, the Winnipeg Rifles finished with a 4-4 record to qualify for the Prairie Football Conference playoffs for the first time in franchise history.


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