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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Klassen won't go to Sochi

Golden Girl gives up dream of fourth straight Olympic Games; unsure if she will continue competing in speedskating

Posted: 12/18/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 12/18/2013 6:34 AM | Updates

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Canada's greatest winter Olympian will not complete her quest to compete in a fourth straight Olympics for her country.

With less than two weeks until the Olympic trials, speedskater Cindy Klassen is still not training after suffering a concussion this summer. Klassen told the Free Press on Tuesday she will not make it to Sochi and is uncertain about her future as a speedskater.

"This is disappointing for me but I'm not going to be able to try out for these Games. I crashed while I was in-line skating this summer and got a concussion," said Klassen, born in Winnipeg and developed as a skater at the Winnipeg Speedskating Club. "It sidelined me for a quite a long time. I tried to get into training, but every time I did it I would have symptoms. So I would have to hold back. The process just took so long. Although now I feel great, I feel completely healed, it's just too late. The trials are right around the corner and I just don't have time to get into the shape I want to be in."

Klassen competed last season -- her 13th international campaign -- and placed 19th in the 3,000 metres and 16th in the 5,000 metre at the World Single Distances Championships. She also competed in six World Cups but failed to earn a medal. At the Canadian Single Distances Championships she won the 5,000-metre, took home bronze in the 3,000-metre, was fourth in the 1,500-metre and sixth in the 1,000-metre.

Were she healthy, her results from last season suggest she would qualify for the Canadian team that will head to Sochi.

"I would hope I would have made it, but you never know until the trials... because we have such a strong team," said Klassen. "But that was my goal. It's too bad things worked out this way."

Klassen became the first Canadian to win five medals at a single Winter Olympics in 2006 where she earned gold in the 1,500-metre, silver in the 1,000-metre, silver in Team Pursuit, bronze in the 5,000-metre and bronze in the 3000-metre.

Klassen also won a bronze medal in the 3,000-metre at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Skating for Canada in Vancouver in 2010, Klassen did not earn a medal.

Dubbed Canada's Golden Girl after her triumphant swing through Turin, Italy in 2006, Klassen is now unsure if this is the end.

"That's something I really need to think about. I'm 34 now," she said. "I really need to think and pray about it and see where God is leading me. There are some older skaters, and there's one girl that is 40 and that is competing and doing well. Clara (Hughes) was phenomenal in 2010 (at the age of 37) in Vancouver. But I need to think about this."

Klassen's teammate and fellow Winnipegger Hughes also has won six Olympic medals -- two in cycling and four in speedskating. They are Canada's most decorated Olympians.

Trying to qualify for the Olympics in 2018 is something Klassen doesn't believe she'd be interested in.

"It would be amazing to qualify for the Games at that age, because not many people are able to do it," she said. "To be able to compete for Canada is such an honour and to wear that Canadian skinsuit and to march in the ceremonies, it's such an honour to compete for your country. But I'd also have to take into consideration at that age if I was going just to compete and not be competitive. I would want to think about the younger skaters coming up and the experience they could use to get better for future Games. I wouldn't want to take a spot from someone who could get that experience, so it would depend on how I was doing at the time."

If this is indeed the end, Klassen had a message for her hometown and province.

"This is hard. As a Christian, I'm leaning hard on God. I watched the World Cups and all my teammates were out there and I missed that atmosphere and being with my teammates. It's tough not being in the sport right now," she said. "I just want to say I feel so blessed for the support I've had from Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. They've always really backed me up. And I want to say thank you to MTS. They've made me feel like family and been such a great sponsor over the years. I'm extremely grateful for all of it. I feel blessed to have been able to compete in the Games. When I was growing up, I thought I would be a hockey player, but that dream kind of died on me and I never thought I would get to go. To be able to go and win medals for our country, I feel incredibly blessed to have had the career I've had and meet the people I've met. It's been an incredible experience."

Of the other Manitobans at the trials, Brittany Schussler looks to be a lock to make Canada's women's pursuit team. Schussler, along with Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin and Regina's Kali Christ, will be seeded third in Sochi after a strong World Cup season.

Winnipeggers Heather McLean, Shannon Rempel and Tyler Derraugh will also be at the trials.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2013 C1

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Updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 6:34 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo

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