Future looks fantastic

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:00 PM ET

We just learned something about Cindy Klassen this week. And it bodes very well for Turin, Italy, a year from now.

No, we don't want to start piling up the expectations a full 11 months in advance of the 2006 Winter Olympics. A ton of things can happen between now and then.

But we can say this: Klassen, the 25-year-old Winnipeg speed skater, has the ability to come up with her best stuff when she really needs it.

"I'm in shock right now," Klassen told The Sun from Inzell, Germany, yesterday. "I still can't believe it."

Believe it.

The Mennonite Brethren Collegiate grad had just won her second gold medal of the world championships, this one in the 3,000 metres. The thing will look awfully good next to the one they hung around her neck a day earlier, after the 1,500 metres.

And who knows, there could be more.

Today, Klassen teams up with fellow Winnipegger Clara Hughes and Kristina Groves of Ottawa in the pursuit event. Tomorrow, it's the 1,000.

No matter what happens this weekend, these worlds already belong to Klassen -- exactly as she planned it.

At the beginning of the year, Klassen sat down with her coaches and circled early March and the single-distance championships on her calendar. Here, and not at the world all-around championships, is where she wanted to peak.

Her thinking: This event is more like the Olympics. At the all-arounds, times from the different distances are combined. Here, each race stands on its own.

"Cindy has been hungry for this championships since the start of the year," Klassen's coach, Neal Marshall, said. "She's been training awesome looking up to it, and put it all together."

You should know Klassen, despite all her success, wasn't the favourite this week.

This was, after all, not only the home country, but the hometown of Anni Friesinger, the queen of the long track, and the woman who cleaned up at the all-around worlds last month.

Friesinger had won the 1,500 here three years running and is also the reigning Olympic gold medalist in that event. There are banners of her throughout the country. She's a national hero.

Klassen beat her by a quarter of a second.

"In the 1,500, she raced right before me and the crowd went wild, and she had a great time," Klassen said. "So it's a little intimidating. But it's kind of exciting to be able to beat her here."

In yesterday's 3,000, Klassen put up a time of 4:10.37, then watched as the rest of the field, including defending Olympic champ Claudia Pechstein, another German, tried in vain to match it.

"I didn't expect that," the winner said. "Especially because there were a few more pairs after me."

It's to the point where we should probably expect the unexpected from Klassen.

You see, it was only a year ago she was taking most of a season off, after slicing her arm open in an ugly spill.

Can we safely say the comeback is complete?

"I think that, right now, I've got it all back already," she said.

Which brings us to our next question: Has Klassen replaced Friesinger as the top female speed skater on the planet?

"No. Not even close," she said. "The whole season, if you look at what Anne did, at the world (all-around) championships she won every single distance. That's incredible. And there's so many strong skaters out there."

So Klassen figures she's still the one doing the chasing.

That's OK.

She's still 11 months from the finish line.


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