Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reliving Olympic glories

Cindy Klassen is front and centre at Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame's new Winter Games exhibit

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That megawatt smile that warmed a nation some eight years ago remains and will always be a Cindy Klassen trademark. And there might just be an ember or two of that competitive fire still smouldering inside one of Canada's greatest Olympians.

But these days Klassen spends more time looking back at her Hall of Fame career -- and wondering what her future outside of speedskating might hold -- than worrying about training regimens and the mental stress that comes with being a world-class athlete.

And so, as the 2014 Winter Olympics draws near, Klassen won't be fixating on her events for the first time in over a decade after competing in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games. Instead, she'll be like a lot of fans out there...

"I'll be glued to my television set, for sure, and watching as much as I can," said Klassen Wednesday at the unveiling of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame Olympic exhibit.

"It's kind of weird. It was my whole life... even off days you were still thinking about skating. Everything you would do revolved around skating. Now it's totally different. I mean, I can stay up past 10 o'clock and not feel guilty about it.

"Watching the Games will be hard not being there, but I'm really excited to cheer on our team, especially Brittany Schussler. She's from Winnipeg and she's such a strong athlete and I think this is going to be a really good Games for her. She's a great friend of mine and I know how strong she is and how mentally tough she is. She's been on the podium already this season in the 1,500 metres at a World Cup and the team pursuit team is always battling it out for a medal and usually for a gold medal so their chances are very strong.

"Brittany is a leader on that team pursuit team so watch for her."

Klassen has loaned her 2010 Vancouver skin suit and one of her bronze medals from Torino in 2006 to the impressive collection at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

She won five medals in Italy -- a gold, two silver and two bronze -- and along with fellow Winnipegger Clara Hughes has six Olympic medals, making them the most-decorated Olympians in Canadian history.

But in typical Klassen fashion, she downplayed that Wednesday, instead focusing on how much of a thrill it was for her to have some of her memorabilia displayed alongside the likes of Susan Auch and Jonathan Toews.

"To have my name next to those names is really special for me, especially someone like Susan Auch, who I really looked up to growing up," said Klassen. "She was a household name for me growing up and then to be able to move to Calgary and train with her and be on the team with her was really special. She kind of took me under her wing and taught me so much and has been such a tremendous role model."

Klassen isn't sure what's on the immediate horizon, other than watching the Olympics. She plans to complete her undergraduate studies and possibly attend Bible school after she finishes her degree. Wednesday was about reliving some past glories while wondering if the exhibit might help fuel the dreams of this province's next wave of Olympians.

"It's amazing. It's such an honour to be a part of this," Klassen said. "It's so neat to be able to celebrate our rich history in sport and hopefully this will inspire the kids coming up and future Olympians from our province.

"All of the medals were special in their own way, but Torino was a very special Games for me. And the 2010 skin suit... being able to compete on home soil at those Games representing our country is something that I'll never forget. Not many athletes get to go to the Olympics but then to compete at the Olympics on home soil when our whole country came together.

"Unfortunately I didn't win a medal there, but that skin suit is something I'm really proud of." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 D1


Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 6:41 AM CST: Replaces photo, formats text, adds video

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