Best of the best

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Cindy Klassen has never gone one-on-one with Steve Nash.

But if she ever does, she now has some trash talk she can throw in Nash's face: just remind him who won the Lou Marsh Trophy in 2006.

Klassen, the Winnipeg speed skater who cleaned up at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, nosed out Nash, the NBA star from Victoria, in voting for the prestigious award as Canada's athlete of the year.

Problem is, Klassen isn't the trash-talking type.

"I'd say I'd have to vote for Steve Nash," she said from Calgary yesterday.

Just a few hours earlier, Klassen had been between training laps at the Olympic Oval when her coach, Neal Marshall, called a team meeting to announce the news.

As her teammates cheered, Klassen was nervously shifting her weight from side to side, embarrassed to be singled out, yet again.

She'd better get used to it.

If she's not winning medals on the ice, the 27-year-old is winning awards because of the medals she's won on the ice.

Next up, the Canadian Press female athlete of the year award, later this month.

This one, though -- handed out by a media panel since 1936 -- has no gender designation.

So as of today, Klassen is sharing trophy space with the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mike Weir, not to mention some of the great Olympians of all time.

She's also the first Manitoban to win the award since Flin Flon's Bobby Clarke in 1975.

Klassen not only beat out Nash, she also elbowed aside baseball player Justin Morneau (American League MVP), hockey's Joe Thornton (NHL MVP) and Jonathan Cheechoo (top goal scorer), Olympic champ Jennifer Heil (freestyle skiing) and fellow speed skater and gold-medal winner Clara Hughes.

"It's incredible," Klassen said. "They're just outstanding athletes. It's an honour to be up there with those names."

Klassen topped them all in '06.

She began by shattering world records on the World Cup circuit.

Lugging a few metric tonnes of expectation with her to Turin, she became the first Canuck to win five medals -- a gold, two silver and two bronze -- at a single Olympics.

She topped it all off by sweeping all four events at the World Championship in Calgary, officially cementing her place as the best all-around speed skater on the planet.

As if there was any doubt.

"It still seems like an incredible season for her," coach Marshall said. "The Olympics, obviously, but even the whole thing. She skated some incredible times and then skated incredible at the Games. And then at the World Championships, as well. It was just exciting."

How did she do it, especially under all that pressure?

Klassen credits those around her: coaches, sports psychologists and teammates.

"We just tried to keep it light," she said. "And I think that made a big difference."

Those close to her say Klassen has remained as low-key about this whole stardom thing as ever. There's no Bode Miller in her, that's for sure.

"She doesn't want to talk about it all that much," friend Brittany Schussler, Klassen's roommate in Turin, said. "She'll be quietly happy around everybody. She knows she's done amazing things. Although she is humble, she knows how big a deal it is. She appreciates it."

Klassen's modesty obviously strikes a chord with Canadians.

A fan poll conducted by the Toronto Star, which hands out the Marsh award, had Klassen as the choice of 53% of voters, compared to 18% for Nash -- a surprising result, given the profile Nash enjoys as a pro athlete.

Start to finish, though, it was Klassen's year.

Now she has the trophy to prove it.


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