Speedskater Clara Hughes focuses on process, waits for results

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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RICHMOND, B.C. When speedskater Clara Hughes lines up for a race winning a medal isnt her focus.

That philosophy may sound strange coming from someone who has won five Olympic medals at Summer and Winter Games. But when Hughes races, its the process that consumes her. The results will follow.

I never go into anything trying to win a medal, Hughes said Sunday after finishing second in the womens 3,000 metres at the Canadian single distance long-track speedskating championships. Im going in trying to have the race of my life. Ive done that every single Olympics Ive raced in. Thats why Ive won five Olympic medals.

Ive gone for excellence. I havent gone for beating other people because I dont know what other people are doing. I know what I can do. I know what it takes to get to that level. Its an amazing process.

Kristina Groves of Ottawa won the 3,000 metres in four minutes 11.79 seconds. Hughes, of Glen Sutton, Que., was timed in 4:14.36 while Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg was third in 4:19.59.

The championships are the first competition to be held at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Racing in the venue that will host speedskating at the 2010 Winter Games excites Hughes.

More than anything its just valuable to have a race on the Olympic ice, she said. Just being in the facility is incredibly motivating.

Concerns have been raised that hosting the Vancouver Games at sea level will result in heavier ice than ovals at Calgary and Salt Lake City, which were built at altitude.

Hughes isnt bothered by the location.

I love the ice, she said. It suits my technique, it suits my strengths.

You have to be very strong to skate well on this ice and you have to be able to suffer. Apparently I do both those things well. I felt good every time Ive skated here. It gives me confidence this is my ice.

Hughes, 36, began speedskating at age 16, then switched to cycling a year later. She returned to speedskating when she was 28.

The Winnipeg native won two bronze medals in cycling at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.

As a speedskater she was third in the 5,000 metres at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Hughes added to her collection at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin by winning gold in the 5,000 metres and a silver in the team pursuit.

The fact she continues to compete, at a time when many athletes her age are considering retirement, surprises even Hughes.

In fact, when I was young I thought I would not be an athlete after the year 2000, she said. I thought 10 years of my life is enough to give to sport at this level.

You never know what can happen in life. I just feel like its a gift I can have these opportunities and Im able to continue to pursue my dreams as an athlete.

Schussler, 23, called Hughes an inspiration.

She has so much knowledge and experience, said Schussler. Shes not shy to share what she knows. She tries to help other people get better. Shes great to be able to be able to watch.

To prepare for the 2010 Olympics, Hughes has rented an apartment about 500 metres from the Olympic Oval. For her, its important to balance preparing physically for the Games with feeling comfortable mentally.

Ive seen athletes dominate for three years and 11 months and then suck at the Olympics, she laughed. For me its part of the process.

What I want is to get a connection here. If I do that I know the wings are going to start to grow on my back.

The championships, which end Wednesday, will select the team for the second half of the World Cup season plus the world all-around championships that will be held in Hamar, Norway in February.

Injuries have resulted in several of Canadas top skaters missing the championships.

Olympic medallist Cindy Klassen is taking the year off to recover from knee surgery. Jeremy Wotherspoon, the world champion in the 500 metres, is out with a broken arm while Mike Ireland is recovering from a dislocated shoulder.

The speedskating oval will seat about 8,000 fans during the Games. The Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee contributed $63.3 million towards building the oval. It is part of a 33,750-square-metre, $178-million facility which will be used as a recreation centre after the Olympics.

Hughes hasnt decided if she will retire after the Olympics.

I never think too far too far in the future because I dont know how long I have on this planet, she shrugged. I honestly just live in the moment and I love what I do.

Organizations: Richmond Olympic Oval, Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Salt Lake City, Ottawa Calgary Atlanta Turin Hamar Norway

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