Clara Hughes’ enthusiasm and energy explode through the phone line.
Canada’s woman for all seasons is about to get on a plane bound for Europe and begin final preparations for her sixth Olympic Games, three Summer and three Winter.
At these Olympics in London, Hughes will have the chance to become Canada’s outright leader in career medals, the opportunity to break a tie with Cindy Klassen, her speed skating teammate. Each has six Olympic medals. Hughes won two bronze medals in cycling at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and followed up with four speed skating medals, including a gold at the Turin Olympics in 2006.
At age 39, the fire is still burning brightly as Hughes gets back on the bike for the women’s time trial and road race events in London.
Does she think she can get that seventh medal, adding to her haul as the only multiple medal-winner at both the Winter and Summer Games?
“I’ve always had the audacity to think I can win,” Hughes told QMI Agency before jumping on that plane.
Her combination of physical tools and Olympic experience put her in a great place heading into these Games.
“The defending Olympic champion (in the women’s time trial, Kristin Armstrong) is a year younger than me,” Hughes said.
“Women have proven over and over they get better with age. I joke with some of teammates, I remember when I was 19 years old and I had teammates my age (now) and I thought they were so old but they were so cool. Hopefully they don’t think I’m a total granny.”
Every Olympics is a standalone experience.
Hughes has been a different person, a different competitor for each of them.
She has been the young unknown. She has been the defending Olympic champion.
What she brings to London is the emotional equilibrium of a veteran competitor who has learned to seize the moment and how to get the most out of herself on that given day, at that given moment.
Sometimes it’s enough.
Sometimes it isn’t.
The perspective that comes with all that experience is being able to accept the outcome and be content that she produced the best performance possible that day.
“Every Olympics has been different,” Hughes said. “I’ve had issues with my health because of crashes. I’ve learned a lot by losing at the Olympics. No matter the circumstances, it has always been the same goal — it’s freeing yourself, allowing yourself to reach your potential on that day.
“It’s what you allow yourself to do and where you allow yourself to go … going to places you weren’t aware of, you didn’t know they were there and you don’t want to know. The reality is I picked a couple of sports where there are incredible amounts of pain.
“I know from experience that a lot of things can go wrong. What matters is how you deal with it.”
Experience has told her how to prepare. She’s doing some training in Italy, participating in some stages in Germany and will go to London to learn the nuances of the time trail course.
“I have no idea what my best will be,” Hughes said, “but I think I have as good a chance as anybody in the field.”
Here’s guessing her best is going to be pretty good.