She's unforgettable

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Cindy Klassen wasn't quite certain what she should do the first time it happened.

Nor has she been totally comfortable with it any of the countless times it's happened since she returned home 10 days ago as Canada's most decorated Olympian of all time.

"Sometimes people will recognize me and will be staring, which is really strange for me because I'm not used to it," said the 26-year-old speed skater with a shrug and smile. "I'll think, 'oh, why are they staring at me? Maybe there's something on my face.' I guess it's going to die down and people will start to forget after awhile."

Um, guess again, Cindy. With your Olympic encore slated for Vancouver four years from now, the good folks at McDonald's, MTS Allstream and lord knows how many others will make darn sure yours is a face no one in Canada will soon forget.

"That's pretty naive," laughed coach and good friend Neal Marshall when told of Klassen's suggestion she's a novelty of sorts. "It won't go away I don't think. Maybe the attention won't be as intense but people are going to recognize her.

"We went out for brunch the other day and people were whispering to each other when she walked in. Then, when we got up to leave, the table behind us stood up and started cheering, saying 'You rock.' "

Turns out they're right.

Single-handedly carrying enough clout to sell out (yes, all 4,000 seats both days) the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships at the Oval this weekend, the golden gal who accounted for more than a fifth of Canada's record medal haul is still shocked by how much attention she's getting of late. Yet, if it wasn't obvious enough that newfound fame and fortune won't change the pride of Winnipeg, consider where she chose to store her five medals.

"They're actually in a bag in my closet," smiled Canada's flag bearer at the closing ceremony, who still uses a bike to get from her nearby condo to the Oval.

"It's a good bag. I don't look at them unless I have to take them out for an appearance. They'll probably stay there. Actually, I bought some cases for them in Turin and they'll get here in six to eight weeks. I'll probably put them in the cases, but they'll stay in the closet."

And where is the Olympic bronze from Salt Lake City?

"In the closet."

None of this is to suggest the converted hockey player isn't proud of her efforts or the rewards they've reaped. It's just that the world's most dominant speed skater is still humble enough to suggest she's "in the running" this weekend in an event she'll dominate.

"Hopefully I can have a couple personal bests -- it would be nice to finish off the season strong," said Klassen, pumped about skating in front of her 80-year-old grandmother for the very first time Saturday.

"I've had such a great time experiencing all the hype of the Olympics but I'm still the same person and I'm going to have fun with the Worlds this weekend.

"After that, I'm looking forward to the season being over -- I'm not going to deny that."


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