Home is the hero

ADAM CLAYTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Winnipeg's golden girl has finally come home.

Speed skater Cindy Klassen, Canada's most decorated Olympic athlete, arrived in Winnipeg yesterday for the first time since winning five medals at the Turin Games in February. Hundreds of fans, many carrying signs and waving tiny Canadian flags, gathered at Winnipeg International Airport yesterday morning to greet the North Kildonan native.

"I'm so happy to be home right now. Winnipeg is such a great city and such a strong community, and I felt the support throughout the entire games," she said later. "I'm really proud to be from Winnipeg. It's always going to be my hometown."

'REALLY COOL'

Carly Shaski, 11, was one of about 20 students from Maple Leaf elementary school -- which Klassen attended as a child -- to welcome the Olympic hero home at the airport. Shaski said she was thrilled to get Klassen's autograph.

"It was really cool," she said. "I just really like her."

After a brief reunion with family members at the airport, Klassen embarked on a series of tributes around the city. Klassen's mother, Helga, said she always knew her daughter, a converted hockey player, was something special.

"I never would have imagined anything like this, but she always seemed to be good at anything she tried athletically," she said.

Klassen, who won the women's all-around title and set a new world record in the 1,000 metres at the World Speed Skating Championships in Calgary last week, spent much of the day signing autographs. Rob Henn brought his three young daughters to the Grant Park McDonald's to see Klassen.

"I just got them into skating this year, and they love it," she said.

"When Cindy was in the Olympics, they loved watching her on TV, and I think she's a great role model for my daughters."

After a whirlwind day in which Mayor Sam Katz announced that a street and recreation facility would be named after Klassen, Klassen said she plans to spend time with her family and take a short break from speed skating.

"We get a month and a half off so I'm just going to relax, eat some junk food and then get ready for the next season, probably in May sometime," she said.


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