CALGARY -- Go ahead and tell Cindy Klassen that she's fighting an impossible battle in her quest to win a medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Mention that she's a long shot, at best, to reach the same area code as the podium on two surgically repaired knees.

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Cindy Klassen speeds to a second-place finish and a third Olympics ticket Monday in Calgary with a time of 3:53.34 in the 3,000 metres.

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Cindy Klassen speeds to a second-place finish and a third Olympics ticket Monday in Calgary with a time of 3:53.34 in the 3,000 metres.

CALGARY -- Go ahead and tell Cindy Klassen that she's fighting an impossible battle in her quest to win a medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Mention that she's a long shot, at best, to reach the same area code as the podium on two surgically repaired knees.

The speed skater from Winnipeg won't listen. Not after watching her younger sister, Lisa, defy the odds in hospital and survive a car wreck that left her car submerged in the bone-chilling Red River.

The word "impossible" simply does not exist in the Klassen family dictionary.

"They were sucking water out of her lungs," Klassen said Monday, remembering back to February of 2008. "At one point, I had to grab a chair and sit down, because I thought I was going to faint.

"I was just thinking, 'if she's tough enough to get through this, then doing a race? That's nothing.' "

Fully recovered from a broken pelvis, tailbone and vertebra, Lisa climbed up the stairs Monday at Calgary's Olympic Oval to watch the Canadian Olympic team trials in long-track speed skating.

From her perch in the stands, she witnessed big sister Cindy book her ticket to her third Olympics with a second-place finish in the 3,000 metres.

Back in Turin in 2006, Klassen -- Canada's most decorated Olympian -- actually set the world record in the 3,000 metres with a time of three minutes, 53.34 seconds.

On Monday she faded on the final lap, allowing Clara Hughes to surge past and claim first place with a time of 4:05.03. Klassen's time of 4:06.08 -- while nowhere near her personal best -- officially gives her a spot on the Olympic team. Hughes, also of Winnipeg, had already pre-qualified in the 5,000 metres. The win gives the 37-year-old at least two shots at a medal come February in Richmond, B.C.

Kristina Groves, of Ottawa, had already qualified in the 3,000 metres -- forcing Klassen to finish in the top-two Monday to cement her spot.

"I just left it in God's hands," Klassen said. "I mean, you worry about it a little bit, because that was my goal -- to try and get back to the Games.

"I'm just grateful for all the support I have around here. I have a great coach. A great team. I'm just thankful for all the people who have been praying for me through all of this."

At 30, Klassen is supposed to be in the prime of her career. But the road to Vancouver has proved rockier than anything she ever imagined.

Like many Olympians, she took the 2006-07 season off to rest after winning five medals in Turin. The following year, Klassen cut her season short to be by her sister's side in hospital.

In the summer of 2008, Klassen underwent surgery on both knees, and she missed all of last season in hopes of recovering in time for the Olympics.

Realistically, does she have a real shot at gracing the podium again with two surgically repaired knees?

"Right now, gold looks tough," said coach Michael Crowe. "But I think she's progressing fast enough that she has the chance to be in the hunt for a medal."

 

-- Canwest News Service