Crowd celebrates 5 Winnipeg stars

ROSS ROMANIUK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

They were welcomed home by a grateful throng and a plan to name more places in their honour.

Five of Winnipeg's stars from the recent Winter Olympic Games were celebrated yesterday by a crowd of about 600, including Mayor Sam Katz and deputy mayor Mike Pagtakhan, at Old Market Square.

Record-setting speed skater Cindy Klassen -- Canada's most decorated Olympian after taking five medals, including gold, in Turin, Italy -- smiled while wading among youngsters to sign autographs.

'REALLY TOUCH MY HEART'

"The kids really touch my heart. For them to be inspired by us means a lot," Klassen said. "Seeing the fire in their eyes -- that can never get old."

Klassen was joined on stage by fellow medal-winning speed skaters Clara Hughes and Shannon Rempel, along with hockey players Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small, as Pagtakhan introduced them to heavy applause.

Katz announced a plan to honour Winnipeg's eight athletes from the Turin Games by putting the name Olympian Track on an indoor running course to be constructed as part of a $5.2-million overhaul of the newly named Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex.

And the city will put the name Olympic Park on a green space to be developed in a subdivision in North Kildonan, near a site where Cindy Klassen Way will be built.

Despite the absence of hockey player Delaney Collins and speed skaters Mike Ireland and Brittany Schussler, the audience showed its appreciation for the athletes as they signed copies of a Sun special edition titled Winnipeg's Golden Girls.

"Seeing so many friends in the crowd is pretty cool," Small said. "And being able to look out and wave at people is almost surreal."

Hughes said it's been rewarding to "share this moment in time" in Winnipeg with her family and a friend battling cancer following her gold medal in the 3,000-metre race in Turin.

"We are just a few of the people who have been given a chance to do extraordinary things," Hughes told the crowd.

"I hope we can show all you kids in the audience and all the parents of these children that if you get your kids involved and give them a chance to follow their dreams, truly anything can happen."

Alex Georgeson, 11, was among the fans who came away with souvenirs.

"I got a picture with her!" he said after meeting Klassen.


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