Clara Hughes: The Medal A Bronze, the Smile Pure Gold

Richmond (Sportcom) – Clara Hughes completed her long track skating Olympic career, Wednesday, with bronze medal in the 5000m event.  Hughes skated the 12.5 laps in a time of 6:55.73; Czech athlete and World Champion in title in the distance, Martina Sablikova (6:50.91) won Olympic gold, while Germany’s Stephanie Beckert (6:51.39) took the silver medal. 

Other Canadians on the ice today were Ottawa’s Kristina Groves, who finished 6th in a time of 7:04.57, and Cindy Klassen (7:22.09), of Winnipeg, who finished 12th.

Hughes has brought an illustrious Olympic career to a close, one which started at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, where she won two bronze medals in road cycling.  In 2002, at her first Olympic Winter Games, the Winnipeg native took another bronze medal, in the 5000m long track speed skating event, the same distance in which she took the gold at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. 

As steady as a metronome each lap, Team Canada’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies never faltered in her pacing.  After her bronze medal win was confirmed, she ran a victory lap around the oval to thank spectators for their support.  However, above and beyond any medal, the objective of Glen Sutton’s (Quebec) most famous resident was the satisfaction of knowing she gave it her all one last time – mission accomplished. 

“There was so much talk about medals and owning the podium. I don’t think in those terms, I think in terms of excellence. I did that in the last race of my life on ice and it was so enjoyable and I’m so proud of the process,” beamed Hughes post-race. 

“It was one of my best races ever; I was focused and I was able to savour the magnificent feeling of skating; it’s such an amazing feeling.  I want to say thank you to the amazing crowd once again, they gave me wings.”

After a remarkable fifth place in the 3000m event last week, Hughes commented that she wanted five more laps to skate.  “When there’s five laps to go, that’s when I say Bring it on! – that’s when the racing starts.  It’s a tough race, and I was ready for 12.5 laps.  The (gold and silver medal) skaters are two young, very talented athletes, but I didn’t do too badly either, for an old lady!”  joked 37 year-old Hughes with her trade-mark laugh.

Kristina Groves - silver medallist in the 1500m event, and bronze medallist in the 3000m – explained she would have liked a better result in today’s race.  The 33 year-old skater has another chance at medalling in the women’s team pursuit this Friday. 

“It was more difficult mentally than physically.  I’ve had highs and lows over the past few days, so I did the best I could today (Wednesday).  It’s still been an incredible experience and I can’t wait for the team pursuit race,” confirmed Groves. 

When asked about her teammate’s performance, Groves had only good things to say, “She is so good under pressure, and she did it again today, retiring with yet another medal. It’s phenomenal! I’m really happy for her, and for our coach Xiuli Wang.
Clara’s six Olympic medals speak for themselves, but above all it’s the person that she is, and what she’s accomplished that are as important – if not more important – than her race results,” she concluded. 

Cindy Klassen, for her part, acknowledges lacking energy, “The start was good; my lungs were OK, but my legs were dead.  At the end I was just trying to stay on my skates and push as much as possible.  During this Olympic Winter Games, it’s been moving to have the crowd’s support, the likes of which I’ve never felt before,” Klassen mused. 

Friday, the elimination rounds will take place for the men’s and women’s team pursuits.

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Written by Sportcom for Speed Skating Canada