July 10, 2020

Winnipeg
15° C, Fair

Full Forecast

Close this

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Klassen turned hockey disappointment into Olympic speedskating glory

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/2/2018 (867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Team USA dethroned Team Canada Wednesday night in the women's hockey final, it marked the first time in 20 years that the American side was able to capture gold in the event. The last time the United States women won gold — 1998 in Nagano, Japan — was also when Cindy Klassen's Olympic dreams changed drastically.

Klassen always wanted to be an Olympian, but not as a speedskater. Like most young Canadians, Klassen dreamed of wearing the Maple Leaf jersey and representing the country in hockey at the Olympics. She got close to making that dream a reality, too.

Klassen began playing hockey in Winnipeg when she was four years old. She grew up playing with the top boys' teams in the city before transitioning to women's hockey at the age of 16. Hockey Canada took notice of her talent and invited her to Calgary to try out for the national team in 1997 — one year before the '98 Games. Klassen, 18 years old at the time, thought everything was lining up perfectly.

"I really thought this was it. I went out for the tryouts and I thought they had gone well," said Klassen, who now lives and works as a police officer in Calgary. "A couple weeks later when I returned to Winnipeg, I got a phone call saying I didn't make the team. I was pretty crushed. I thought I had a chance, so it was pretty heartbreaking for me, especially since it was a dream I had for so long."

Shortly after, Klassen began her first year of university and needed something other than hockey to occupy her time. It was her parents who recommended that she give speedskating a try.

"My first reaction was 'absolutely not.' I thought there would be no way I'd be caught in one of those tight skin suits and those long blades. They looked funny to me," she said.

Klassen eventually warmed up to the idea and figured she'd try it out to make her parents happy. With her hockey background, she thought it would be a relatively easy transition. It was anything but.

She was "blown away" at how difficult speedskating was. At her first practice, little kids were skating circles around her. Despite the early struggles, she kept at it.

Jeff McIntosh</p><p>/ The Canadian Press</p><p>Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2017 inductee Cindy Klassen is interviewed following an announcement in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 14, 2017.</p>

Jeff McIntosh

/ The Canadian Press

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2017 inductee Cindy Klassen is interviewed following an announcement in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 14, 2017.

"For some reason, I'm not sure what it was, maybe it was the challenge, but I kept going back," she said. "Pretty soon, I was hooked."

When the '98 Games rolled around, Klassen found herself more interested in speedskaters Susan Auch and Catriona Le May Doan than the Canadian women's hockey team.

"I was just in awe of these speedskaters. I just remember thinking to myself, 'You know what, I think I want to go to the Olympics, but for speedskating now,'" she said.

She was hesitant to drop hockey, but with the Canada Winter Games taking place the following year in Corner Brook, N.L., it was the perfect time to fully commit to her new sport.

"I made myself a deal that I would give up hockey for one year, and I'd solely focus on speedskating for one year, and if I made the Canada Games team, I would move to Calgary and pursue speedskating full time," she said.

In that year, not only did Klassen qualify for Team Manitoba's Canada Games team, she also qualified for the junior national team.

"That kind of solidified it for me that I was going to move to Calgary and pursue speedskating to try to make it to the national team," said Klassen, who went on to become a three-time Olympian.

Six Olympic medals — which is a tie with fellow Winnipegger Clara Hughes for the most in Canadian history — 17 World Championship medals and a Lou Marsh Award later, it's safe to say being cut from the women's hockey team was one of the best things to have ever happened to her.

"It's really surreal for me, especially thinking I got cut from the hockey team," she said. "I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I'd end up as a speedskater. And then, to win medals as a speedskater, I feel like in a way, it still hasn't really sunk in."

@HOFPod

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

https://youtu.be/Ew-wAJ2Qppw

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us