Two weeks of glory

Canadian speedskater Cindy Klassen takes a breather after competing in the 3000m at the Olympic...

Canadian speedskater Cindy Klassen takes a breather after competing in the 3000m at the Olympic Oval in Calgary on Sunday. (Sun Media/Stuart Dryden)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

It was the beginning of a new era in Canadian sports. Gone were the days of sending our best athletes to the Olympic Games with a pat on the back and a gentle "Just do your best."

Due to the looming presence of Vancouver 2010, it was all about medals. The goal in Turin was 25 and a third-place finish in the standings.

Who was going to lead the way? None other than a shy, God-fearing Mennonite named Cindy Klassen.

Klassen said she just wanted to improve on Salt Lake City '04, where she won a single bronze. That didn't stop others from piling on the pressure, though.

No less than two-time gold medalist Catriona Le May Doan, embracing the new dare-to-be-bold mantra, predicted Klassen could reach the podium in all five of her events. Others proclaimed her Canada's Queen of the Games -- before the starting gun was even loaded.

And let's not forget hockey mouthpiece Don Cherry's rant against Klassen and all others who turned down the opportunity to carry the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies.

That's where we got our first glimpse into Klassen's ability to block out everything extraneous.

Cherry had thrown a high elbow and most every Canadian athlete who had ever trained for an Olympics knew it.

Klassen just shrugged it off.

"You can see it kind of annoyed her," said Brittany Schussler, probably Klassen's best friend and roommate in Turin. "At the same time ... she dealt with it perfectly. She heard it, but she gave it no attention."

Just filed it away, perhaps for future motivation.

Klassen was beginning to realize the scrutiny she was under and it hit her square in the face when she met a swarm of media in Turin, where she was bombarded by questions about Cherry and her medal expectations.

After all that, we can only imagine what she was feeling as she approached the starting line for the first time. Pressure, certainly. Perhaps a touch of self-doubt. Maybe outright terror.

Little wonder she was wound tighter than a drum in her first run at the podium, the 3,000 metres, leading to a near fall on the final turn.

That first race not only added a bronze to the country's medal bag, but also helped Klassen shed a bundle of nerves.

The medals kept coming and through each one emerged a more focused, confident Klassen, until she nailed it in the race of her life on Feb. 22.

And wouldn't you know it, there she was carrying the flag in the closing ceremonies.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Cherry.

"It was (proof) she made the right decision," Schussler said. "She knew what she was doing."

Which bodes well for Vancouver 2010.

Having already set the bar for career medals by a Canadian with six, Klassen could knock the thing right off the rack in three years.

We can only imagine the extent of the hype machine by the time she reaches the starting line.

"She can get better -- for sure," said her coach, Neal Marshall. "And she's still hungry for it, which is maybe the biggest factor. If the skater's not hungry, then it's not going to happen."

High expectations? Been there, done that.

Besides, it's the new Canadian way.

Cindy Klassen ensured it'll stay that way.


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