Canada’s Clara Hughes wins gold medal at speed skating World Cup

Clara Hughes of Winnipeg won the gold medal in the women’s 5,000-metres race to highlight a triple medal performance for Canada on Saturday at the fourth stop on the long track speed skating circuit.

Hughes took the gold clocking six minutes and 56.45 seconds, just one second off the track record and her fastest time by five seconds at the indoor oval. Olympic champion Claudia Pechstein of Germany was second in 6:57.33 and Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg third in 6:57.98.

“Technically it was the best 5,000 race of my career” said Hughes, the bronze medallist in the event at the 2002 Olympics. “It was really motivating to have that race today because it confirms that all the things I’m doing to improve are working. I felt like every time I had a stride that was a little bit off, I was totally aware of it and that I could change and make it better. I’ve never had race like that.”

It was tough week for Hughes who battled a bad cold and was still stuffed up on Saturday.

“I went in thinking this could be really good or really bad,” she said. “But I remembered that Cindy (Klassen) wasn’t feeling well at the World Cup in Calgary (last month) and went on to break a world record. It’s a good lesson that if something like that happens at the Olympics, I just have to stay calm, deal with it and take care of myself.”

Klassen was somewhat surprised with her bronze medal. Her prime distances are the 1,500 and 3,000 in which she’ll be a gold medal contender at the Olympic Games this February in Turin, Italy. She has reached the podium in four of five World Cup races this season and leads the 3,000\5,000 Worod Cup standings.

“I went into the race not really knowing what to expect,” said Klassen, who led her pair Pechstein until the final lap. “I started off pretty slow but the lap times kept improving and I was feeling pretty good. The middle distances are the most important for me but I’m going to race the 5,000 at the Olympics and I plan to go as hard as I can.”

Kristina Groves of Ottawa was 11th. Michele d’Amours of Ste-Foy, Que., was fourth in the B Group race.

In the men’s 3,200-metre pursuit, the Netherlands won the gold medal clocking 3:43.77 with Canada second in 3:44.98. Racing for Canada were Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., Arne Dankers of Calgary and Justin Warsylewicz of Regina. Netherlands 2 was third in 3:45.09 while Canada 2 with Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask., and Dustin Molicki of Calgary was 13th.

The men’s and women’s pursuits are new Olympic events. Canada won gold in world record time in the first World Cup pursuit race this season.

“We’re very encouraged with our great start to the season,” said Warsylewicz. “We’re very much in synch with one another. Even when we’re not at the front we are very efficient and our exchanges and communication are very good. The last couple of laps I had a hard time hanging on and we were able to adjust quickly.”

In the men’s 1,500, Simon Kuipers of the Netherlands was the winner in 1:45.39 with Chad Hendrick of the U.S., second in 1:45.54 and Enrico Fabris of Italy third in 1:45.56.

Denny Morrison was fourth for the second straight World Cup clocking in 1:45.93. Jay Morrison of Fort St. John, Elm and Parker were 17th, 18th and 19th respectively.