Winnipeg’s Cindy Klassen first overall at long track speed skating world championship qualifier

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg neared personal best times on Saturday with victories in the 500 and 3,000 metre races at the long track speed skating North American qualifier for the world all around championships this March.

Klassen, one of Canada’s top medal hopes at the Olympics next month, tabulated 78.030 points. Kristina Groves of Ottawa, second in both races, is second overall at 79.973 and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., third at 39.530. Nesbitt was third in the 500 and sixth in the 3,000.

‘’I was pretty happy about both races, it’s a big confidence boost with the Games coming up,’’ said Klassen, who missed her personal bests by 0.07 in the 500 and by two seconds in the 3,000. ‘’In the 3,000, I tried to approach it the same way as I will in February by staying relaxed, and even when it was getting tough, to make sure I stayed loose. It seemed to work. It’s good to have this event close to the Games since we haven’t done any international races since the fall World Cups.’’

Maria Lamb of the U.S., is fourth overall, Catherine Raney of the U.S., fifth and Clara Hughes of Winnipeg, third in the 3,000, is sixth.

The men raced the 500 and 5,000 and world champion Chad Hedrick of the U.S., is first overall at 73.923. Canadians though are at positions second to fifth with Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., second at 75.003, Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., third at 75.198, Arne Dankers of Calgary fourth at 75.730, Justin Warsylewicz of Regina fifth at 75.774 while K.C. Boutiette of the U.S., is sixth.

Hedrick won the 5,000 in 6:16.93 with Dankers second in 6:17.30 and Warsylewicz third in 6:25.04. Morrison finished ahead of Hedrick and Elm in the 500.

‘’This competition for me is a primer to the Olympics,’’ said Morrison, 20, who has emerged as an international force this year. ‘’I want to get the feel I want to have in the Olympic race and post some solid times especially in the 1,500 (on Sunday) which is my key event.’’

Six men’s spots and five women’s positions are up for grabs for the all around worlds scheduled for the Olympic Oval in Calgary March 18-19.