Olympic speed skating star Cindy Klassen wins gold & World Cup title

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg was firing on all cylinders Saturday at the long track speed skating World Cup final.

The quintuple Olympic medallist at the Turin Games won the gold medal in the women’s 3,000 metres to claim the World Cup season title at the distance and also lowered the track record to boot. Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., added a bronze in the men’s 1,000.

Klassen clocked four minutes and 02. 79 seconds to eclipse the previous track mark of 4:03.46 set by Claudia Pechstein of Germany in February 2004. Pechstein was second in Saturday’s race in 4:05.11 while Maren Haugli of Norway was third in 4:05.22.

‘’I’m really surprised, our team has been hit by the flu bug and I haven’t been feeling well all week,’’ said Klassen. ‘’I didn’t feel I had a lot of energy today but once the race started, the lap times were good and I tried to keep it even. And I actually felt strong for most of the race.’’

Double Olympic medallist Kristina Groves of Ottawa was fifth in 4:06.50 and Clara Hughes of Winnipeg, also a double medallist in Turin, was paired with Klassen and placed 10th. Hughes won the 5,000 gold in Turin.

Klassen won three of the five races this season at the distance to earn the World Cup title and the $14,000 (U.S.,) first prize. Groves finishes third overall and Hughes fourth.

‘’It can be hard to get motivated after the Olympics but once you get to the line you’re in race mode. I have to admit though that I've been feeling a bit homesick as well,’’ added Klassen, who races Sunday in the 1,500 and returns Monday after more than a month overseas. She'll then prepare for the all around world championships March 18-19 in Calgary.

In the men’s 1,000, Olympic champion Shani Davis took the gold in 1:08.91 with Jan Bos of the Netherlands second in 1:09.00 and Wotherspoon third in 1:09.34. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., tied for fifth in 1:09.61.

‘’Jeremy looked a lot more solid in the corners which was a problem area for him at the Olympics,’’ said Wotherspoon’s coach Sean Ireland. ‘’He ended with a very fast lap which helped him get into the medals. The Olympics were obviously disappointing for him so to get a medal here is going to make him feel better about his skating.’’

Davis entered seven of the 11 1,000 metre races and won all of them took take the World Cup title. Wotherspoon climbed to third overall with his strong showing on Saturday.

In the women’s 1,000, Ireen Wust of the Netherlands won the gold medal clocking 1:15.46, Anni Friesinger of Germany was second in 1:15.75 and Chiara Simionato of Italy third in 1:15.96. Friesinger clinches the World Cup title at the distance.

Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg was 11th, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., 12th and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg 15th.

Competition ends Sunday.