Behind the scenes

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

On the surface, Cindy Klassen wasn't fazed by much as she carved out her place in Canadian sports history, winning five medals at the Turin Winter Olympics last year.

The truth is Klassen was a nervous wreck who was up half the night, particularly early on.

"She wasn't sleeping at all," said Brittany Schussler, Klassen's good friend and roommate in Turin. "She started taking sleeping pills . . . pretty much every night."

The pressure and expectations were getting to Klassen.

Her coach, Neal Marshall, could see it, too.

The strategy going in was to keep things light, not think about the implications of what she might accomplish. To get her away from the sport occasionally, too.

"That becomes more of a challenge in the village," Marshall said. "Because you come back from training and you go eat with all the teammates from other sports and it's in your face all the time."

The night before the 3,000 metres, Klassen was so nervous she didn't even want to watch the men race. She had Schussler turn off the TV in their room, too. No Olympics. Period.

The next day, nerves probably robbed Klassen of a gold or silver.

"The effect of nerves is something you can't see," Marshall said. "It's just a little bit of extra tension in the body."

Just enough to take its toll at the end of a race.

Publicly, Klassen put on a brave face about the colour of her first medal. Privately, she told Schussler how she really felt.

"She was gunning for first, for sure," Schussler said. "That's what she wanted."

Two things happened that helped Klassen loosen up.

One was the team pursuit. The camaraderie both the men's and women's teams experienced in winning silver medals and being able to share the spotlight did wonders for her.

Canadians might also want to thank Nev and Gliz. Italian for "snow" and "ice," Turin's official mascots helped break the ice for Klassen.

"We had little dolls of them, and we'd put them everywhere," Schussler said. "I would put them on her backpack before she left or hang them from the telephone cord and she'd walk by and she'd hit one. And I'd go into the change room when she wasn't around and hang them. So she could take a swing at them."

It's a silly ritual that lightened the mood and reminded Klassen to attack.

"You're in this intense sporting environment and you need to be a goof, you need to blow off and have the yin and the yang," Marshall said. "There were many of those goofy things going on that were really valuable."

By her third event, the 1,000 metres, Klassen was on her game -- almost.

While she didn't race the 1,000 very often, she loved it and thought she could win it.

But she missed gold by some two one-hundreds of a second.

Again, she was disappointed, at least away from the cameras.

"She wasn't going there with dreams of silvers and bronze," Schussler said. "It was a dream for a gold medal."

The 1,500 was Klassen's best event. Looking back, the timing of it, fourth on her schedule, was perfect. Her nerves were gone, she was in a routine and after the 1,000, she was a little mad.

The morning of the 1,500, Schussler immediately noticed a difference in her roommate.

"I noticed that she was just Cindy," she said.

They say there's no such thing as the perfect race, but on Feb. 22 Klassen came close, annihilating the field by nearly 1.5 seconds.

SKATING INTO HISTORY -- ONE STEP AT A TIME

A look back at Cindy Klassen's magical fortnight at the Winter Olympics in Turin:

- Feb. 12: the 3,000 metres -- Klassen runs out of gas late and settles for a bronze medal. Nerves definitely played a factor.

- Feb. 16: Team pursuit -- Klassen and four teammates win silver medals in a first-time Olympic event. The men take silver, too, boosting the morale of the entire long-track team.

- Feb. 19: 1,000 metres -- In a distance she doesn't normally race, Klassen turns in a solid time to win silver. She becomes the first Canadian woman to win three medals at a single Winter Games.

- Feb. 22: 1,500 metres -- It all comes together and Klassen blows away the field to win gold. She's the first Canadian, male or female, to win four medals at a single Olympics, Summer or Winter.

- Feb. 25: 5,000 metres -- Klassen makes it five for five with a bronze in the most gruelling women's event on ice. The next day she's named Canada's flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies, while Olympic boss Jacques Rogge proclaims her the "woman of the Games."


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