Speedskater Hughes glides into Sports Hall of Fame

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame wasted no time inducting star Olympic speedskater Clara Hughes.

Women's 5

Women's 5

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame wasted no time inducting star Olympic speedskater Clara Hughes.

Just over two months after her last race, Hughes will join five other athletes and two builders entering the Hall of Fame later this year.

“It’s a pretty big surprise because I still feel the reality that I’ve quit skating hasn’t sunk in yet,” the multi-Olympic medallist said Monday from Toronto. “Usually this comes maybe a decade later.

“But I think it’s an indication of a shift that’s happening in the direction of sport in Canada in terms of really trying to embrace excellence when it’s happening and performances close to when they’ve happened and keep the public interest alive.”

The Winnipeg native, who now lives in Glen Sutton, Que., won bronze in the 5,000 metres Feb. 24 at the Vancouver Winter Games to bring her total number of Olympic skating and cycling medals to six, including one gold.

Gymnast Kyle Shewfelt, Paralympic wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc, decorated hockey goaltender Patrick Roy, Formula 1 driver Jacques Villeneuve and freestyle skier Jean-Luc Brassard are the other athletes who will be inducted.

Former Own The Podium head Roger Jackson and the late football executive Bob Ackles will be inducted as builders.

“Kyle Shewfelt is a buddy of mine and Chantal Petitclerc is not just an amazing athlete, but a fine example of the potential of the human being,” Hughes said. “I feel really honoured and excited to be a part of this group.”

The eight inductees bring the Hall of Fame roster to 514. The Class of 2010 will be honoured at a dinner in Calgary in November.

A failed attempt to relocate the Sports Hall of Fame to Ottawa from its long-time home at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition grounds put the facility in limbo over the last decade.

The Hall is currently virtual and can only be viewed online until the completion of its new home at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park, which is scheduled to be June 2011.

“I’m a born-and-raised Calgarian, so I couldn’t be happier,” Shewfelt said from Calgary. “I’m the first artistic gymnast to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That to me is one of the coolest parts about being in the Hall of Fame.”

Six athletes and two builders is a large class. The Hall’s own guidelines recommends the selection committee add no more than five athletes and two builders each year. The selection committee is made up of athletes, sports administrators and members of the media.

“The last vote was very close and they asked ’Could we add the extra athlete?’ because it was so close,” explained the Hall’s chief executive officer Sharon Posen. “We agreed we’d add the extra person this year.”

A quick look at each of the inductees.

Bob Ackles — The Sarnia, Ont., native is the only non-player to win the Schenley Award for outstanding contributions to the Canadian Football League. He won two Grey Cups with the B.C. Lions as the team’s general manager in 1985 and as team president in 2006. He started out as the Lions water boy at 15 and spent more than 40 years in the organization until his death in 2008.

Jean-Luc Brassard — The moguls skier from Valleyfield, Que., won gold at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. He inspired a generation of world-class freestyle skiers in Quebec, including current Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau.

Clara Hughes — The Winnipeg native won her sixth Olympic medal at the Vancouver Games to join fellow speedskater Cindy Klassen as the only Canadians to accomplish that feat. Hughes is also the only athlete to win multiple Olympic medals in Summer and Winter Games. She has two cycling bronze medals to go with gold, a silver and two bronze in speedskating.

Roger Jackson — The Calgarian is already in the Hall of Fame for winning an Olympic gold medal in rowing in 1964. Jackson then served in various sport leadership roles in Canada, including director of Sport Canada and president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. He was head of Own The Podium, an ambitious business plan to get Canadians on the podium at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

Chantal Petitclerc — The wheelchair racer from Montreal capped off a brilliant Paralympic career with five gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing to bring her total 14. She was named The Canadian Press female athlete of the year in 2008.

Patrick Roy — Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, the goaltender from Sainte-Foy, Que., won four Stanley Cups over his 19-year NHL career. Roy owns the NHL record for most playoff wins with 151 and is the only three-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy that goes to the post-season’s best player.

Kyle Shewfelt — The Calgary gymnast won Canada’s first and only Olympic medal in gymnastics with a gold in the floor exercise in 2004. Despite suffering major knee injuries in a training accident less than a year out from the 2008 Olympics, Shewfelt rehabilitated himself in time to compete in Beijing.

Jacques Villeneuve — The Montreal driver is the only Canadian to win the Formula 1 drivers title, which he did in 1997 with the Williams team, and the Indy 500, which he did in 1995. He joins his late father Gilles, who died in 1982 in a racing accident, in the Hall.