A star for a superstar Olympic legend Klassen returns to Peg for hometown hootenanny

It’s been more than 15 years since Cindy Klassen cleaned up at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and a trip down memory lane is a trek Winnipeggers are happy to make.

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It’s been more than 15 years since Cindy Klassen cleaned up at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and a trip down memory lane is a trek Winnipeggers are happy to make.

Klassen returned to Winnipeg on Monday for a Hometown Star presentation and was presented with a commemorative plaque honouring her 2019 induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame. The plaque – a replica of her star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto – will be mounted at the Gateway Recreation Centre, the local community club where Klassen spent time as a youngster playing hockey.

The three-time Olympian – who now resides in Alberta – has stacks of medals and a list of accomplishments longer than most, but hasn’t forgotten her roots.

“Any chance I can get to come back to Winnipeg, I’ll take it and it’s just so great to be back here to be around friends and family,” said Klassen. “As soon as I get to Winnipeg it just feels like ‘ah, like I’m at home’ and so I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Cindy Klassen and her daughter, Phoebe Landiuk, take a look at the Hometown Star plaque as it’s unveiled Monday.

Klassen is a six-time Olympic medalist, five of which were earned at the 2006 Games. She’s the only Canadian Olympian to win five medals at a single Olympics, a performance that led then IOC president Jacques Rogge to dub her as “the woman of the Games.”

Her banner year in 2006 was capped off by winning the Lou Marsh Award, given to Canada’s overall athlete of the year. She also won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s top female athlete that year for the second consecutive time.

In addition to Olympic hardware, her trophy case is also stocked with 115 international speed skating medals (46 gold, 41 silver, 28 bronze).

“I’m just so grateful for the memories and really, the friendships that are going to last a lifetime,” she said

“As soon as I get to Winnipeg it just feels like ‘ah, like I’m at home’ and so I’m grateful for this opportunity.” – Cindy Klassen

Klassen was expecting her first child when she took the stage for her Canada’s Walk of Fame induction speech in 2019. This time she got to share the experience with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Phoebe.

She’s once again expecting, with a baby boy on the way in October.

“Just seeing the world through her eyes… it seems like she’s learning something new every day and it’s just an amazing feeling,“ said Klassen. “So, to have her up there with me is really special.”

Klassen said sometimes when she watches speed skating clips she stops to ask herself if she really did it. But if there’s one person who hasn’t forgotten about her greatness in the sport it’s Speed Skating Manitoba executive director Elizabeth Williamson Derraugh.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Klassen won one gold, two silver and three bronze medals in speed skating at the Winter Olympics. She won five medals at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy and was dubbed the “woman of the Games” by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

“I’ve known Cindy since she started speed skating, my mom was actually one of her coaches at the Winnipeg Speed Skating Club,” said Williamson Derraugh. “I was probably like eight years old at the time.”

She recalled a screening of the races during the 2006 Winter Olympics and said it was an emotional experience for both her and Klassen’s first speed skating coaches who were in the room. The sport’s local community is very small and tight-knit and they always root for one another.

“Everyone is so personally invested in everyone’s success,” said Williamson Derraugh. “Cindy just being who she is, I think everyone was more invested in her as a person.”

Klassen has kept in touch with the local community and sometimes comes to club and provincial events. She also went to the 2019 Canada Winter Games as one of the coaches with the provincial team.

“She’s done an incredible job of remaining connected to the sport in our province.” – Elizabeth Williamson Derraugh

“She’s done an incredible job of remaining connected to the sport in our province,” said Williamson Derraugh.

The decorated Olympian laughed as she explained how one day her name will be forgotten. However, she hopes that when the next generation of young athletes walk through the doors of the Gateway Recreation Centre and see the plaque, they’ll discover and be inspired by her career.

“Hopefully they can learn that just a regular kid from Winnipeg just had a dream and if they dream big too then… their dreams can come true as well,” said Klassen.

gavin.axelrod@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: Gavin77axe

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