Clara Hughes wins gold at world speed skating championships

Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., achieved her season-long goal on Sunday as she won the gold medal in the women’s 5,000-metres at the long track speed skating world single distance championships.

"This is probably my biggest thrill after my Olympic medals," said Hughes, who has two cycling and one speed skating medals from Games competitions. "To win the world title against what was one of the best fields ever is really special."

The victory at the season-ending meet capped another magnificent performance by the Canadian long track speed skaters. Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., added silver in the men’s 1,000 and Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg took bronze in the women’s 1,000. Canada ended the competition with six medals, two of each colour.

In the women’s 5,000, Hughes clocked seven minutes and 10.66 seconds for her first world title. Gretha Smit of the Netherlands was second in 7:11.17 and Claudia Pechstein of Germany third in 7:13.42.

"With two laps to go I was hurting so much," said Hughes, a silver medallist in the event last year. "It was then that I needed to make a decision. And I decided to fight. I skated the race of my life and exhausted everything I had. There were still three pairs after me and waiting for the others to finish were some of the longest moments of my life. When I knew that I won I didn’t know what to do."

Kristina Groves of Ottawa was eighth.

The victory is another feather in Hughes sporting cap. The former national team cycling star is the only Canadian to win a medal at both a summer and winter Olympics. In cycling she never won a world title but did place second at the 1995 cycling worlds in the individual time trial.

"To actually be up there and hear Oh Canada was simply amazing," she said. "Before my race, Cindy Klassen came up to me and said I want to hear Oh Canada today."

In the men’s 1,000, Erben Wennemars of the Netherlands was the winner in 1:10.66 with Wotherspoon second in 1:11.12 and Masaaki Kobayashi of Japan third in 1:11.58.

Mike Ireland of Winnipeg was 10th and James Monson of Calgary 19th.

It was another fantastic season for Wotherspoon. He won the World Cup 500 crown for the third straight year and sixth time in seven years. He became the most successful male racer in history on the World Cup circuit and surpassed the 50-career win plateau. And he also clocked the world’s fastest time outdoors at a World Cup last month in Italy.

In the women’s 1,000, Anni Friesinger of Germany took the gold in 1:17.82 with Marianne Timmer of the Netherlands second in 1:18.50 and Klassen third in 1:18.68.

Klassen suffered a serious arm injury in the fall and missed most of the season. However she has quickly neared the form that made her an Olympic medallist in 2002 and the world all around champion in 2003.

Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg was 12th and Krisy Myers of Calgary 18th.

In addition to the great performances by the senior skaters this season the future looks bright. At the world juniors last month, Justin Warsylewicz of Regina became the first Canadian to win the men’s overall title, Dustin Johnston of Moose Jaw won the 1,500 title and Rempel finished third overall with victories in the 500 and 1,000.