'A little sad it's over'

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

CALGARY -- "Smile for the Netherlands!" yelled the Dutch fan, one of hundreds looking for a picture, a handshake, a kiss or just a little eye contact from the world's most dominant speed skater.

Cindy Klassen turned, flashed her million-dollar smile, then skated over to the side boards for an impromptu meet-and-greet with a few hundred of her biggest fans.

For the next half hour, Canada's Queen of the Olympics and newly-crowned world champion may as well have been royalty.

With a crowd three or four deep scrambling to get close, pens, flags, posters and digital cameras outstretched, Klassen made her way along the east-side boards of the Olympic Oval, stopping to offer a piece of herself to everyone.

She shook hands with little girls perched on their father's shoulders and clutching Canadian flags in their tiny hands. She asked if they'd had a good time, shook hands with their fathers and accepted warm hugs from their mothers.

She signed Canadian flags, posters, the backs of people's jackets and T-shirts. She gave her autograph to boys wearing Calgary Flames caps and to Dutch fans wearing their goofy orange crowns.

She posed for dozens of pictures with people she'd never met, putting her arms around them, even allowing men to plant their lips on her cheeks, one on each side, while the flashbulbs popped.

Finally, she embraced each of the oval's ice-makers -- the men with the black cowboy hats.

"Great ice, guys," Klassen gushed.

It was a good thing she was wearing that giant, orange life preserver/wreath they hung around her neck during the medal ceremony. Otherwise she may have been drowned by the affection.

If Klassen didn't know how big she was after the Turin Winter Games, she does now.

Her performance the last two days -- a dominant sweep of all four events at the World All-Round Speed Skating Championships -- was the perfect exclamation point to one of the greatest single-season statements a Canadian athlete has ever made.

"I look back, and it couldn't have gone any better," Klassen said. "I'm a little sad that it's over, because it's been a really fun ride."

If five medals in five Olympic events was Klassen's main course, then this weekend was the icing on the chocolate cake.

After smoking the competition and breaking her own world record Day 1, she smoked the competition and nearly matched her own world record, this time in the 1,500 metres, on Day 2.

Not even the dreaded 5,000 metres was going to bring Klassen to her knees.

Instead of cruising through her final race, content in knowing the overall title was hers, she kept her foot on the gas, beating German star Claudia Pechstein by more than two seconds.

A girl-next-door with a killer instinct.

When Klassen won this event three years ago, she didn't actually win any of the individual races.

This time she won all four, just the fourth woman in world championship history to pull off the sweep.

"I wasn't thinking about winning all four," she said. "If I would have gone in and just had a mediocre race and didn't try my hardest, I would have been disappointed in the result."

After clinching the title in her final race, Klassen drew standing ovations at the finish line and during both victory laps. It seems everybody in the building was applauding -- German coaches, Dutch skaters, even the tuxedo-clad members of the brass band, who tucked their trumpets and trombones under their arms to clap as Klassen skated by.

Later, after a session with reporters, Klassen was approached by a 12-year-old boy who asked her to sign the cast on his left arm.

A budding speed skater, Colin Welling had broken his elbow and wrist snowboarding a day earlier.

Canada's newest superstar signed the cast, and made one more fan.

"It looks like she does everything perfect," the boy said.

It sure does.


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