Klassen is red hot

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

How much further -- make that faster -- can Cindy Klassen go?

That's the question the speed skating world is asking today, after the Winnipegger's jaw-dropping performance at a World Cup race in Salt Lake City over the weekend.

Occasionally, Klassen even surprises herself, and that's exactly what happened when she looked at the clock following her 1,500-metre race on Sunday.

"When I crossed the line and I saw 1:51, I was kind of in shock," Klassen told the Sun from her base in Calgary yesterday. "I really didn't expect it, at all. I don't know why that happened. But I'll take it."

Klassen's exact time: one minute, 51.79 seconds.

The reason everybody is so blown away by it? It was nearly a second-and-a-half faster than the world record set by Germany's Anni Friesinger (1:53.22) two weeks earlier.

As her coach, Neal Marshall, points out, you just don't go out and break world records in the 1,500m by a second-and-a-half. At least, mere mortals don't.

"It's a huge amount of time," Marshall said. "World records are usually broken by two, three, maybe four-tenths (of a second). I knew she was capable of the world record and skating a 1:52. But she jumped right from the 1:52s to the 1:51s.

"She surprised me this weekend."

Of course, all this takes on added significance due to the presence of a neat little speed skating event on tap in Italy this February. You may have heard of it. It's called the Winter Olympics.

All things remaining equal between now and then, it's safe to say Klassen will head into the Games as the gold-medal favourite in the 1,500m.

Considering she also set a world record in the 3,000m this season, an event in which she won the bronze medal in the '02 Olympics, and the fact she'll likely be racing in five events, in total, in Turin, and the possibilities boggle the mind.

I mean, she's already broken two world records, one of them (the 1,500m), twice. And the season is only three weeks old.

Which raises one niggling question: is it possible Klassen is peaking just a tad too soon?

"I sure hope I'm not," she said. "It seems like everybody's going fast right now. And I don't think anybody's trying to peak right now. It's just 'cause it's an Olympic year -- there's a lot of energy and it's real exciting.

"We didn't set up for me to be going my fastest this weekend, so I'm hoping it's just going to keep getting better."

To hear Marshall tell it, it's almost inconceivable that Klassen won't be better in Italy. Same goes for the competition.

That's how their training is designed.

After two more World Cup races -- in Holland next week, at the Olympic site the week after -- Klassen will get a rest period aimed, ultimately, at creating reserve energy for the Games.

"She's right on track," Marshall said. "We haven't done anything overly special to prepare for these World Cups. It's not like the goal is to be at our best here."

Well then slooowww down, for Pete's sake!

All kidding aside, winning now, while not critical, accomplishes something that can't be measured by the clock. Something that could pay off on the starting line in Turin.

"It gives some confidence," Klassen said. "If you're doing well now, you're going to believe you can do it at the Games. But I also know, going to the Games, it could be anybody's day."

That may be. But with every fallen record and every World Cup win, the 25-year-old redhead from Winnipeg looks more and more like someone on the verge of becoming Canada's golden girl.

"We just have to trust the program," Klassen said. "And believe when we get to Torino, we're going to be on fire."

You mean, still be.


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