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March 18, 2016

Thursday, December 20, 2001

Klassen driving for 5

Winnipeg speed skater qualifies for three Winter Olympic events

By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

 It was beginning to look like a fairy tale was being played out on the Olympic Oval in Calgary this week.

 Turns out the part about the perfectly happy ending has been put on hold.

 Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen, the 22-year-old wunderkind who traded in her hockey skates for a pair of speed skates four years ago, had already qualified for her first Olympic Games in two different events -- the 1,000 and 1,500 metres.

 Monday, Klassen went out made it three for three in the 3,000 metres. Two days later, she wowed everybody, including herself, with a personal best in the 500 metres, which isn't exactly her specialty.

 That leaves her needing just one more qualifying time in the 500 in order to add that race to her Salt Lake City calendar. She'll try for that after Christmas.

 Oh, and tomorrow she'll go for the Olympic standard in the 5,000 metres.

 Talk about a Drive For Five.

 So you can imagine the high Klassen was on when she sat back to watch her boyfriend of two years, fellow 'Pegger James Monson, line up for his 500-metre race Tuesday.


 "I just had a really good race before that," Klassen said in a phone interview from the Oval yesterday. "All I was thinking was, 'He's got to have a good race, too.' "

 Sure enough, as if drawing from his girlfriend's success, Monson, 26, absolutely blew out of the gate, and was on his way to a personal best and a possible trip to Salt Lake City (cue the romantic music and the picture of two lovers skating into the Utah sunset).

 Problem is, someone messed with the script.

 "His first hundred (metres) was the fastest he'd ever gone," said Moira D'Andrea, Monson's coach. "It was world class."

 Making the final turn and heading into the homestretch, Monson was in full control.

 Some 20 or 30 metres from the finish line, his worst nightmare came true.

 "I guess I slipped or something," Monson said. "It happened so fast."

 Because of the hockey boards at the Oval, Monson's coach didn't see it. But his girlfriend did.

 "I just felt so bad for him -- he was on such a good race," Klassen said. "I know what was going through his head. I'm sure he was just so happy with his opener.

 "I tried to be there for him. It's tough. These are the Olympic trials. It's really hard to see that, especially someone you care about so much."

 "It seemed like it was so close... he would have been going to the Olympics."

 Actually, Monson wouldn't have been guaranteed a trip to Salt Lake, but a scintillating time would have put him in pretty good shape entering the final Olympic trials next week.

 Now, the pressure's on. He'll will have to put together two superb times in order to join Klassen on the Olympic team. The two have never travelled to a meet together.

 "It would be the ultimate," Monson said. "In the summer I was like, 'Wow -- am I going to go watch Cindy in the Olympics?' It would make life a lot easier if I could go as part of the team."

 Until the last few weeks, Monson admits he'd never dreamed of the possibility of he and Klassen competing together at the Games.

 With that dream now so close, he'll forego Christmas with his family to remain in Calgary to train.

 "I'm at the point where I need to pull everything I've got, to race the best I can," he said.

 Not wanting Monson to be alone during the holidays, Klassen will also miss Christmas in Winnipeg, a first for her.

 And who says romance is dead?

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