Winnipeg’s Cindy Klassen is the world champion!

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg beat the defending and Olympic champion to win the gold medal in the women’s 1,500-metres on Thursday in an electrifying start for Canada at the long track speed skating world single distance championships.

Arne Dankers of Calgary also posted Canada’s best ever result at the single distance worlds in the men’s 5,000-metres placing sixth.

Klassen took the gold clocking 1:58.49 in the final pairing under good conditions at the outdoor venue for her first world single distance title. Anni Friesinger of Germany, the three-time defending champion and the Olympic gold medallist in 2002, was second in 1:58.73 and Jennifer Rodriguez of the U.S., the Olympic bronze medallist and Klassen’s pair, was third in 1:59.44.

"To do this one year before the Olympics is huge for me," said Klassen, also the World Cup champion and world record holder at the distance. "This is like a mini Games and I had never won at the single distance worlds. I think I needed that confidence boost."

Klassen posted the fastest time over the first 300 metres at 25.1 seconds.

"Annie Friesinger was in the pair before me so I knew I had to nail my start and have a very fast first lap. And I surprised myself with one of my best opener’s ever."

It’s the fourth straight single distance worlds that Klassen has earned a medal. Last year she won silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000 after missing almost the entire season due to an arm injury. In 2003 she was third in the 1,000 and in 2001 third in the 1,500. The event wasn’t held in 2002 because the Olympics where Klassen also won bronze in the 3,000.

Kristina Groves of Ottawa was 12th and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., 17th.

In the men’s 5,000, Chad Hedrick of the US., took the gold convincingly in 6:25.61. Bob De Jong of the Netherlands was second in 6:30.53 and his compatriot Carl Verheijen third in 6:32.73.

Dankers posted the best international result of his career with an impressive sixth place finish in 6:37.24, a personal best time outdoors.

"I started out quick and had a very good rhythm off the bat," said Dankers. "And usually I have good races when that happens. My first two laps were exceptional. This is a great way to finish a great year. It gives me a lot of motivation for next season. I’ve closed the gap on the competition."

Competition continues through to Sunday.