Clara Hughes wins silver medal at speed skating World Cup

KOLOMNA, Russia – In what she described as her most important 5,000 race since winning the Olympic title in February 2006, Clara Hughes of Winnipeg took the silver medal on Saturday in the event at a long track speed skating World Cup competition.

The race was touted as a showdown between world champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Hughes. Sablikova took the gold medal in 6:53.67 followed by Hughes in 6:56.63. Daniela Anschutz Thoms of Germany was third in 6:58.58.

‘’It was a really good race and technically it was the best I skated in a long time,’’ said Hughes, who worked on her speed last season by focusing on the shorter distances. ‘’I felt I had some easy speed, I was calm and every push I made counted. It was an efficient race and I wasn’t that tired at the end.’’

Kristina Groves of Ottawa, paired with Hughes, was fifth and Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg was sixth.

Sablikova leads a 3,000-5,000 division of the World Cup standings with 300 points. Four-time Olympic champion Claudia Pechstein of Germany is second with 180 points after finishing fourth. Hughes follows, 10 points behind.

Erben Wennemars of the Netherlands won the men’s 1,500 in 1:46.07. Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., was the top Canadian in 13th place and Jeff Kitura of Langley, B.C., was 18th. Lucas Makowsky and Justin Warsylewicz, both of Regina, were second and fourth respectively in the B Group race.

The third stop of the nine-event World Cup was originally scheduled for the Krylatskoye Ice Arena in Moscow. Organizers moved the competition to Kolomna last week because engineers spotted major structural problems with the roof suspension system at the 4-year-old, $84 million arena.

‘’This is a beautiful rink,’’ said Hughes. ‘’It’s unlike any other oval I’ve ever been in. I have to tip my hat off to the organizers who did a great job getting this event together here at the last minute.

Competition ends Sunday.