Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cindy will need a miracle

It's possible... they seem to run in the family

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VANCOUVER -- She probably won't win a medal, you know, our Cindy Lou.

Not in an individual race, at least. That would take a small miracle.

That's right, Cindy Klassen, the darling of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, who exploded with a historic five-medal performance, will by all accounts be hard-pressed to make the podium at all in Vancouver.

It's her knees, and the toll years of speedskating had placed on them. Turns out the warranty was for about 100,000 kilometres or six Olympic medals.... whatever came first.

Klassen underwent double reconstructive knee surgery last summer, with every intention of returning for the fall season. Never happened.

"When they (doctors) went in, they realized my knees were a lot worse than they expected," Klassen said Monday, during a mixer for the Canadian Olympic long track speedskating team. "They thought it would be a quick cleanup and I would be back on the ice in no time."

But the damage had already been done. Unable to get back on the World Cup circuit, Klassen was forced instead to ride a stationary bike to Timbuktu and back. If her knees balked, it would be laps in unfrozen water instead.

"It was just really slow progress," the 30-year-old said. "It seemed everything would irritate them (the knees). So we had to change up a lot of training. I spent a lot of hours in the pool."

Not only that, Klassen, who had for so long dominated speedskating through brute force and will, now had to adapt with finesse. Not unlike a flame-throwing pitcher needing to develop an off-speed pitch, Klassen can't simply outpower her competition anymore.

"I think I'm pretty close to as strong as I'm going to get," Klassen said. "But technically I have to keep working on things."

Even Klassen's coach, Michael Crowe, conceded that Klassen winning one individual medal in Vancouver would be just as impressive a feat, under the circumstances, as winning five in Turin. "It might be a bigger surprise," Crowe said.

But...

"One, it's the Olympics and you want to compete," he added. "And she's got a great head on her shoulders and a great heart. So you know for sure she'll go out there and do her very best. That's the beauty of the Olympics.

"She has not had the best preparation for what you think is normal. But even now, every day she's improving. And I believe a lot in what she can bring out. She has a lot of power inside and also, physically, her power is getting better. There's still the possibility something good can happen... if you keep believing, keep strong, not give up."

Then again, adversity certainly hasn't been a stranger to Klassen since that glorious experience in Turin, when the Olympic podium became something of a Stair Master: one gold, two silver, two bronze. It was only two years later, after all, that Klassen's 2008 season ended pretty much the moment her sister Lisa's car jumped a barricade on the North Perimeter Bridge and dove into the Red River.

Lisa was pulled from the partially submerged Jeep by passers-by Dale Kasper and Toby Tutkaluk. Life savers.

Older sister Cindy raced home from Germany, where she was competing on the World Cup circuit. She never went back. "I think that I'm going to stick around here (Winnipeg) for a while," Klassen said at the time. "To have her (Lisa) healthy again, it means the world to us."

Lisa Klassen did recover from a broken vertebra, tailbone and pelvis. This week, when Klassen competes in the 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres -- and perhaps the team pursuit -- Lisa will be in the stands at the Olympic Oval in Vancouver along with the rest of the Klassen clan, parents Jake and Helga, along with brother Cary and sister Faye.

"I've learned so much from the last four years, going from the highs in 2006 to my sister's accident," the most prolific Olympic medallist in Canadian history reasoned. "That was pretty hard, but I gained a lot of perspective in that. Just being surrounded by people who cared for us and people who were praying from our church and our pastors. Not knowing that she was going to make it or not, we still felt that peace. We were prepared for whatever the outcome would be.

"Thinking about that and going back into sports, it gives you that perspective about life. And I'm just grateful to be here. I mean, I've been so blessed my whole life, to be a speedskater and represent Canada in Vancouver, it's really exciting. It's an honour."

The analogy exists, regardless of the extremes. There was a time Cindy Klassen never knew if she would make it to Vancouver. Before that, there was a darker time when she didn't know if her sister Lisa would make it, either.

So regardless of the outcome on the ice, there will come a moment in the next few days that will erase a lot of painful memories: Cindy Klassen looking up in the stands and seeing her sister, alive and well.

"That's going to be pretty special," Cindy said. "I mean, it could have gone the other way which would not have been good. To have her back and be in the stands cheering me on, that's going to be something very special. And I'm thankful for that."

A medal? Well, that might take a small miracle.

Then again, it's happened before.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

SPEEDSKATERS ARE CONFIDENT C5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2010 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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