Canada's sports queen

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Unsure exactly when she'll get the trophy that goes with being the Lou Marsh Award winner, it's a safe bet Cindy Klassen won't worry too much about its placement upon arrival.

After all, Canada's 27-year-old speed skating queen still hasn't done a thing with the five Olympic medals from Turin that earned her yesterday's honour.

"They're still in my closet," smiled Klassen, still shockingly humble. "They gave us cases to put them in but I don't think they're ever going to go in the cases -- they'll just stay in the closet."

Selected by a panel of Toronto journalists yesterday to succeed Steve Nash as the nation's top athlete of the year, Canada's most decorated Olympian won by the narrowest of margins over the two-time NBA MVP she's never watched in action.

"I don't really watch that many sports -- I mostly watch speed skating -- but I read about them in the paper and I know getting MVP two years in a row is something that might not happen again. It's an incredible accomplishment," said Klassen of Victoria's Nash.

"It's neat that they awarded it to an amateur sport to give amateur sport more recognition. More and more Canadians are following amateur sport and I think that's really exciting for our country. The more people get involved and put money into amateur sports, the better we're going to do."

Just the third speed skater to win in the award in its 70-year history, Klassen said following in the footsteps of Gaetan Boucher and Catriona Le May Doan is a thrill.

"That's neat -- I was lucky enough to be able to speed skate with her when she was racing, so she's someone I definitely look up to," said the defending world champion, who shattered Canadian records by winning one gold, two silver and two bronze in Turin. "It's great to have my name up there with her."

Since becoming 'Woman of the Games,' as anointed by IOC president Jacques Rogge, Klassen has been inundated with endorsement deals and speaking engagements, prompting the Winnipeg native to spend last month in Canmore on sabbatical.

"There have been a lot of changes in my life and I think I really needed a mental and physical break. I wasn't used to making all these appearances," said the Calgary resident, who is now a very wealthy woman.

Unsure when she'll return to the World Cup circuit this season, Klassen says she has no regrets following the busy off-season.

"I think it's good because any time you can motivate kids it's exciting," she said.

Back in full training with coach Neal Marshall and her teammates, Klassen admits she's nowhere near as motivated as she was last year at this time.

"I know it'll come back but it'll take a while," said Klassen, who hopes the award helps her sport.

"Our team did so well at the Olympics that it helped raise the awareness. Winning an award like this will too, and I think a lot of kids will get interested in the sport and hopefully club memberships will rise."

And strive to win medals ... for their closets.


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