Finally, the tears

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

The Germans never found it. Neither did the Dutch. Not even the spotlight of the Olympic Games could uncover it.

But last night, we found out Cindy Klassen does, indeed, have a soft spot.

Standing near centre ice before last night's Manitoba Moose game, close to 10,000 fans showering her with a two-minute, 15-second standing ovation, Winnipeg's Olympic hero actually shed some tears.

It was a rare outward show of emotion for someone who's made a career out of being cool under pressure.

Let the record show, though, that around 7:25 p.m., on March 28, 2006, the ice in Klassen's veins melted on a mild, spring day in Winnipeg.

"The reception I got, it really touches me here," Klassen told the Sun, bringing her hand to her heart. "Just a lot of emotion. Knowing the city has backed me up so much, it means a lot to me. I just feel like they've given me this little extra boost to keep going."

Actually, Klassen's entire day, her first back home since she won five medals in Turin, was one, big boost, beginning when she got off the plane from Calgary to a mass of cheering humanity.

"I couldn't believe how many people had come," she said. "It's incredible."

After exchanging hugs with family members, she handed out autographs like they were candies at Christmas -- and not just to kids, either.

"She made it clear who Canadians can be if they want to be," 68-year-old Terry Brownlee said after convincing Klassen to "do an autograph for an older fan."

"I just admire her for everything she is."

From there it was a meet-and-greet with employees at MTS, one of her corporate sponsors, where she signed her name for some 200 secretaries, salesmen and women, middle-aged marketing guys and auditors in suits, handing out that 1,000-watt smile along with it.

'REALLY SPECIAL'

Then it was off to a jam-packed McDonald's at Grant Park, where the question of the day was, "You want an autograph with that?"

"I think my hand's going to fall off," Klassen joked. But she wasn't complaining.

"It was fun. I've heard it a lot of times, that I'm a role model to them. And it means a lot to me. Seeing the kids, seeing how excited they are and the spark in their eyes, it's really special."

By early afternoon, the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history finally got a chance to go home to catch up with her family. "Two hours," she said. "I was talking, non-stop."

After a helping or two of Easter bread, it was off to the arena for a reception, then the grand finale to what she called a "whirlwind" of a day.

During a pre-game ceremony that included three standing ovations -- the natural hat trick, you might say -- Klassen found out her hometown will name a new street in North Kildonan after her (Cindy Klassen Way), and rename the Sargent Park Recreation Complex.

"Wow -- that's incredible," she said. "That's such an honour. To have my name go up beside the Susan Auch Oval is an honour."

Typical Cindy. Always sharing the glory, whether it's an Olympic gold medal moment, or her first day as one of Winnipeg's all-time sports stars.

Overkill, you say?

When's the last time an individual athlete made this kind of splash here? Teemu Selanne, maybe. Bobby Hull, for sure.

I'd put Klassen right up there.

And that soft spot she showed last night?

It goes along just fine with the one her hometown has for her.


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