Klassen, Marshall, & Hughes win big at the 34th Canadian Sport Awards

Speed Skating Canada is proud to announce two National team athletes and a National team coach have won three of the most prestigious awards at the 34th annual Canadian Sport Awards. Tonight, Cindy Klassen (Winnipeg, MB) was named Female Athlete of the Year for the second year in a row, while her coach, Neal Marshall (Calgary, AB), won Coach of the Year. As well, Clara Hughes (Glenn Sutton, QC) was honoured for her work with Right to Play with the prestigious Spirit of Sport Story of the Year Award.

These wins follow a very successful year for Speed Skating Canada. In 2006 Canadian speed skaters captured half of Canada’s 24 Olympic medals in Turin, achieved 23 podium results at World Championships and an additional 4 at World Junior Championships.

In 2006, Female Athlete of the Year Cindy Klassen, was a dominant speed skater carving her place in history by winning five Olympic medals in Turin, bringing her total to six Olympic medals. Her successes did not end there, as she then went on to win gold in every distance and overall at the 2006 World All Round Championships, also establishing three new world records. It is Klassen’s second year in a row winning the Female Athlete of the Year Award. The last woman to win two consecutive years in this category was speed skating’s very own, Catriona LeMay Doan in 2001 and 2002 (she also won in 1998).

“I’m very honoured to receive the Canadian Sport Awards in the Female Athlete of the Year category,” said a smiling Klassen. “It is so special to be recognized in my hometown of Winnipeg and to share this experience with my family and fans. 2006 was an incredible year and I’m very excited to be racing for Canada as we head towards the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.”

Neal Marshall becomes the first speed skating coach to win the Coach of the Year Award since its establishment in 2002. As a national team coach, Marshall played a key role in the long-track speed skating successes in 2006. Not only did he coach Klassen to five Olympic medals, he also took the lead in coaching the women’s team pursuit to a silver medal in the inaugural event at the Olympic Games.

Beyond performance, the Spirit of Sport Story of the Year Award has been created to celebrate a Canadian hero who, in the pursuit of sporting excellence, has demonstrated strong values and the attributes of dedication, perseverance, sportsmanship, respect for others, and a true love of sport. This year, Clara Hughes was recognized in this category.

For many years, Clara Hughes has been contributing greatly to those less fortunate in hopes of sports development for all. This is her second consecutive win in this category (she won along with teammates Kristina Groves and Arne Dankers last year, again for their Right to Play initiatives). Hughes’ performance on and off the ice was exceptional in 2006.

After her gold medal success in Turin, Hughes pledged $10,000 to Right to Play, challenging Canadians to follow her lead. She then continued her participation by touring several African nations on behalf of Right to Play. To date, over $425,000 has been donated to the organization following Hughes’ lead. Athletically, she is the only athlete to have won multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games, two bronze in cycling in Atlanta, a bronze in speed skating in Salt Lake City, and a gold and silver in Turin.

The three winners had some stiff competition. Also nominated for Female Athlete of the Year were Chandra Crawford and Jennifer Heil, both gold medallist in Turin in cross country skiing and freestyle skiing. Marshall was up against Tamas Buday Sr. and Tim Frick, and Hughes was nominated along with Jason Dunkerley and Ian Mortimer. Fellow speed skater, Francois-Louis Tremblay (Montreal, QC), was nominated for the Male Athlete of the Year award, but skeleton athlete Duff Gibson, gold medallist in Turin, ended up receiving the award..

Klassen was present to accept her award tonight, however, neither Marshall nor Hughes were able to attend, leaving Speed Skating Canada President Brian Bunney to accept the awards on their behalf.

Tonight’s event kicked off the two-day community-oriented celebration of sporting excellence. Established in 1972, the awards have evolved over time to become a premier event that honours the outstanding achievements of Canada’s best amateur athletes and leaders, thus showcasing the heroes that live within sport.