Winnipeg’s Cindy Klassen breaks her world record in 1,500 metres at speed skating World Cup team trials

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg broke her world record in the women’s 1,500 metres on Friday in a spectacular start to the 2005-2006 season at the long track speed skating World Cup team trials which also featured a Canadian record for Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., in his victory in the men’s 1,500.

Klassen, one of Canada’s biggest stars heading into the Olympics this February, clocked 1:53.77 to eclipse her previous mark of 1:53.87 set on January 9, 2005 at a World Cup event in Salt Lake City.

“I’m really excited,” said Klassen, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 3,000 in 2002. “During the race I could feel that my laps were fast and I was thinking 1:54 would be great at this point. When I saw the time at the end I was elated. My main focus today was to have a strong second lap.

With the first two World Cups this season in Calgary and Salt Lake City next month, Klassen is confident she can go even faster. “It’s great having the first two World Cups on fast ice. I’ll want to keep that feel for sure.”

Last season, Klassen won two gold medals at the world single distance championships in Inzell, Germany with victories in the 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres. She also won the World Cup title in the 1,500 with three victories in five races and was second overall at the all around world championships.

Kristina Groves of Ottawa was second in Friday’s race in 1:55.91, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., third in 1:57.36, Clara Hughes of Winnipeg fourth 1:57.51, also all personal bests- and Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., fifth in 1:58.67.

Klassen, Groves and Nesbitt were pre-qualified for the fall World Cups in the 1,500 while Hughes and Simpson earned spots in the distance with their performance on Friday.

“It’s really neat to look at the top-six times and see how fast the women are,” said Hughes. It shows we have a lot of depth. Every year we just keep getting better and better. We wanted to go out in the first races of the year and show that our preparations are going well for the Olympics.”

Also on the line are spots on the pursuit teams. Canada will field two three-member teams at the World Cups. The results of today’s 1,500 also determined Canada’s second team with Nesbitt, Simpson and sixth-place finisher Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg qualifying. Klassen, Groves and Hughes were pre-qualified for Canada’s first team. The pursuit is a new event at the Turin Games and the Canadian women showed last season they are a powerhouse.

In the men’s 1,500, Denny Morrison, a world junior champion last year, clocked 1:45.15 to smash the previous national mark of 1:46.00 set by Dustin Molicki of Calgary in 2002. Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., was second in 1:46.62 and Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask., third in 1:46.91. They were personal bests for all three

“My strategy was to open fast and carry my speed through the race,” said Morrison. “I was expecting a good time and I was aiming for a personal best. But I didn’t expect to go that fast. My lap times were great and I felt relaxed.”

Francois-Olivier Roberge of Ste-Foy, Que., was fourth, Arne Dankers of Calgary fifth and Jay Morrison of Fort St. John, sixth. Elm and Dankers were pre qualified for the World Cups in the 1,500 while Morrison and Parker added their names with their performances Friday.

“I could feel the ice was good today,” said Elm. “I knew it would be quick and I was feeling pretty good. I really like the fact that a lot of the guys were fast. One of the big events this year is the team pursuit. The way Denny skated it may have been worth a medal at a World Cup. So we’re looking strong as well for the pursuit with Denny pushing everybody.”

The top-six with the best combined scores from the 1,500 and Saturday’s 3,000 qualify for the pursuit teams for the World Cups.

Competition continues Saturday with the men’s and women’s 3,000.