Winnipeg’s Cindy Klassen dominates competition at world championship qualifier

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg built an almost insurmountable overall lead Saturday with convincing victories in the 500 and 3,000 metre races at the North American long track speed skating qualifier for the world all around championships next month in Moscow.

In the 500, Klassen posted her fastest time this year clocking 38.53 seconds. Kristina Groves of Ottawa was second in 39.97 and Maria Lamb of the U.S., third in 40.35. Marilou Asselin of Ste-Foy, Que., was fourth and Clara Hughes of Winnipeg eighth.

In the 3,000, Klassen once again took charge with an impressive 4:02.15. Hughes was second in 4:05.44 and Groves third in 4:09.05. Asselin was seventh.

After two of four races, Klassen totals 78.888 points overall, Groves is second at 81.478, Lamb third at 82.100, Hughes fourth at 82.230 and Asselin is seventh. The top-five overall qualify for the world championships.

"It was a very solid day for me and I’m happy to see my 500 is getting better and better," said Klassen, the all around world champion in 2003 who is also tuning up for the world sprints here in two weeks. "In the 3,000 I just wanted to keep my laps even. I just wanted to get a good relaxed rhythm. I want to make sure I’m ready for the worlds."

The Americans are 1-2-3 overall in men’s competition after the first two races. Shani Davis, the 500 winner, stands first at 74.271, Chad Hedrick, the 5,000 victor, is second at 74.310 and K.C. Boutiette third at 75.737. Hedrick and Davis were 1-2 overall at the worlds last winter with Hedrick setting a world points record.

Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., is the top Canadian in fourth at 76.080 after placing third in the 500 and sixth in the 5,000. World junior champion Justin Warsylewicz of Regina (10th in the 500 and third in the 5,000) is fifth, another junior Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., (sixth and ninth) is seventh, Arne Dankers of Calgary (12th and fifth), is ninth, Philippe Marois of Ste-Foy, Que., (11th and 10th), is 10th and Adam McCabe of (seventh and 12th) is 12th.

"We thought our guys would do a bit better but our best events are still to come," said Canadian national team coach Neal Marshall.

The top seven overall (maximum four per country) qualify for the all around worlds.

Competition ends Sunday.