Klassen takes overall lead at North American speed skating qualifier

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg won both the 500 and 3,000-metre races Saturday to stand first overall in women’s competition at the North American regional qualifier for next month’s world all around championships in Sweden.

Klassen, second at the world sprint championships last weekend in Calgary, holds a healthy lead overall at 79.235 points followed by Kristina Groves of Ottawa in second at 82.261 and Catherine Raney of the U.S., at 82.565.

Tara Risling of Medicine Hat, Alta., is fourth at 82.631, Clara Hughes of Winnipeg fifth at 82.861, Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., sixth at 83.255 and Tiffany Hughes of Cambridge, Ont., seventh at 83.525. The top-six qualify for the world championships February 3-8 in Goteborg.

In the 500, Klassen clocked 38.84 seconds with Simpson second at 39.55 and Eva Rodansky of the U.S., third at 40.25. In the 3,000, Klassen posted a season-best 4:02.37, Clara Hughes followed in 4:04.75 and Raney was third at 4:06.69.

``I had a very steady race in the 3,000,`` said Klassen, who placed a Canadian best-ever second overall at last year’s all around worlds. ``I had almost the same time on every lap except for the last one. But certainly the ice wasn’t as primed as it would be for an Olympics so the time was very strong.``

In men’s competition, the Americans are 1-2-3 overall with Chris Callis first, world junior champion Shani Davis second and K.C. Boutiette third.

Kevin Marshall of Coquitlam, B.C., the defending overall champion, is fourth, Steve Elm of Red Deer, Alta., fifth, Dustin Molicki of Calgary sixth, Mark Knoll of Regina seventh, Pete Volcic of Kitchener, Ont., eighth and Philippe Marois of Ste-Foy, Que., 11th.

Molicki, one of Canada’s top international performers last season, was pleased with his progress after struggling through the first couple of months this season.

``I’m on the comeback trail right now,`` said Molicki, fifth overall at the worlds last year. ``I’m using these races to gear me up and get me back to where I was by the time the worlds roll around.``

In the 500, Callis was the winner in 35.94, Marshall second in 36.24 and Davis third in 36.36. Davis won the 5,000 in 6:32.95, Boutiette was second in 6:33.42 and Elm third in 6:33.94.

The top-seven overall in men’s competition qualify for the worlds.

Competition ends Sunday.