Icing on Klassen's cake

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:17 PM ET

CALGARY -- Cindy Klassen got her cake. The question is, when will she get to eat it?

It turns out Canada's newest sports hero won a recent bet, with the payoff taking place track-side at the Olympic Oval here, yesterday.

"It's cake," Klassen beamed, carrying a pan of what looked like the homemade stuff, chocolate variety. "Somebody at Speed Skating Canada promised it to me a long time ago."

With that, the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history disappeared, the spoils in her hands, to the locker-room.

Yes, Klassen is a self-admitted chocoholic. She's also addicted to winning, which brings us to this weekend's World All-Round Speed Skating Championships, and what Klassen wants in her hands by tomorrow night.

Let's face it: if Klassen isn't occupying the highest step on the podium by the end of this thing, it'll be a shocker.

Look up the term all-around skater in speed skating's dictionary, and you'll find her picture. Ask anybody here, and they'll tell you the 26-year-old Winnipegger is the female to beat.

ULTIMATE ALL-ROUNDER

"She's the ultimate all-rounder," Dutch reporter Mark van Driel said.

"She's the toughest girl to beat here this weekend, the big favourite," acknowledged Dutch skater Ireen Wust, the Olympic gold medallist in the 3,000 metres and one of Klassen's few real threats this weekend.

"Cindy is totally the favourite," added Germany's Claudia Pechstein, who has three Olympics golds in the 5,000 under her belt.

Even Klassen's coach, Neal Marshall, concedes the top prize is Klassen's to lose.

"No matter who's here, she's got a very good chance to win," Marshall said. "The fact some of the top threats, on paper, aren't here, namely Anni Friesinger, potentially could make it easier."

That's right, Friesinger, the defending champ and Klassen's principal rival the last few years, didn't make it, suffering a combination of injury, fatigue and "devastation," according to van Driel.

Word is, sexy Anni doesn't find anything attractive about losing to Klassen, something she did in abundance at the Turin Winter Games.

Klassen's biggest challenge the next two days might come from within: how to get herself all cranked up again, mentally, just three weeks after experiencing the high of a five-medal Olympic Games.

She doesn't think that'll be a problem. If the Olympics were the No. 1 event on her calendar this season, this is a clear No. 2.

"Skating in the world championships is pretty special," Klassen said. "During a normal season, this is one of the biggest events. And especially since it's in Calgary, it makes a big difference. It's on our home ice, and we know we're going to have a bunch of Canadians backing us up."

Sure enough, both days are S-R-O, all 3,200 seats snapped up as early as two weeks ago. That's unheard-of for a speed skating event in Canada.

For the first time in Klassen's career, the roar of a crowd will be pro-Canuck, not pro-Dutch.

If Klassen suffered a post-Olympic lull, it was in The Netherlands for the last World Cup race of the season, one week after Turin.

"She skated great, but emotionally it was a very low-key thing," Marshall, the coach, said. "It's coming up again."

That's bad news for everybody else here.

Three years ago, Klassen became the first Canadian in 27 years to win this event. It appears everything's in place for her to pull it off again.

How do you follow up five Olympic medals?

By becoming the world champion, of course.

That's called having your cake, and eating it, too.


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