Cindy Klassen hung up her skates long ago, but the bug still itches from time-to-time.
Klassen, 39, is one of Canada’s most decorated long track speed skaters and even, one of this country’s top athletes. She was in Red Deer this week to watch the next generation of long track speed skaters rise through the ranks.
The Manitoba native, who now resides in Calgary has been helping her home province occasionally as a long track speed skating coach for the last year. They needed a coach for some of the female skaters and she jumped at the opportunity, despite having no experience in the field.
She watched her home province perform this week with plenty of pride. Not only did they have a solid medal haul with five, but Klassen said it was also inspirational to see them peak at the Games. Manitoba’s Tyson Langelaar won two gold and two silver and Alexa Scott won gold in all three of her races.
“Pretty awesome. So inspiring to see them– the first time I really met them was in the summer, then I saw them competing in November. Just getting to know them and how they compete and perform. Their different personalities, you really just want the best for them,” said Klassen, who has been a police officer in Calgary for the last four years.
“Seeing them improve and come to this competition and do so well, it’s inspiring for me to see them and get so excited about the games, this is a huge deal.”
She said watching from the sidelines made her miss the competition a little bit, but seeing how hard they work and train, maybe not so much.
“I miss it a little bit, but I think back and I see them training so hard, I think ‘oh I could never do that’, it’s been a neat experience,” noted the former Olympian who won a record five medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics and has 115 international speed skating medals to her name.
The 2006 Lou Marsh Award winner as Canada’s top athlete was also inducted to the Canada Games Hall Of Fame before the Winter Games started in Red Deer. She got to ride into the opening ceremonies on a chariot with Canadian Olympic track star Bruny Surin.
“That was pretty neat, it was such an honour. Really special, because I had learned so much from the games, they have given me so much. Kind of like a stepping stone into my career as a speed skater,” she recalled.
“To come in with Bruny Surin, someone I had only seen on TV and looked up to and was such a phenomenal athlete, it was very exciting.”
As a teen, Klassen was once at a crossroads in her sports career before the Games. She was about to embark on her second year of speed skating, but still wanted to compete in hockey. The Games became a determining factor and because she qualified in 1999, Klassen decided to head to Calgary to train fulltime.
Despite not even being able to compete at the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Cornerbrook, Nfld., because the ice melted, there was still a vital lesson she learned that week.
“You deal with the adversity. It was still a phenomenal experience being there, every day we had to be prepared to compete. We were trying to get up early enough to race in the morning,” she said.
“Each day you have to be prepared. Just dealing with that and trying to refocus each day, those are tools I’ve taken with me in my skating career.”
Klassen heads back to her day job next week as a police officer in Calgary but added that simply being part of the environment was a flashback to her games experience. That also included some cycling in the 2001 Canada Winter Games.
“It’s been great. The city of Red Deer has done such a fabulous job with the games so far, the week has been phenomenal,” she added.
“The volunteers have been awesome. Everybody is so friendly and excited to be here. It’s just been very impressive how well it’s been organized.”