There was no waiting period for this speedster.
Just after Clara Hughes announced her retirement from cycling and speed skating, Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame organizers fast-tracked the five-time Olympian into their special room reserved for renowned athletes.
“It’s another honour and I’ve had a chance to meet many of the current nominees from all different sports, all different decades,” Hughes gushed just before the official induction ceremony on Saturday night. “Now, I’m going to be a part of that … I’m just thrilled to be here.
“I’ve always been proud of the legacy of sport in Manitoba and to feel that I contributed to that legacy with what I’ve done and how I’ve done it is pretty special.”
Others who were being inducted were Ed Belfour and Kelly Hand, both of Carman, Michael Ireland, Harry Langford and Sandy (Newsham) Maskiw as athletes; Morris Glimcher and Grant Standbrook as builders; and the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s volleyball (1978 and ’80) and the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s basketball teams (1992-95).
Hughes was a cyclist and speed skater who won multiple Olympic medals in each sport. Hughes won two bronze in the Summer Olympics in 1996 and four medals over the course of three Winter Olympics, including a bronze in the 5,000 metres at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“I have so many (highlights) but, for me, it was competing at home in the Olympics, carrying Canada’s flag into the Opening Ceremony,” said Hughes, 40. “I will never forget that moment of looking up and seeing our beautiful flag and realizing that it was in my hands, and leading Canada into that incredible time of 16 days where we showed the world how beautiful we are as people, and how generous we are, and also how incredible we are in the world of sports.
“I was a part of that and I skated the race of my life because of that energy in our home Olympics, and that’s what stands out the most.”
Hughes is heading to Rwanda and Uganda for the Right to Play organization and recently started working with the Bell Let’s Talk mental health campaign.
Hand won five national titles in sailing (laser class) as well as both a world championship and a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Manitoba in in 1999 and Pan Am Gold that same year.
“1999 was my year,” said Hand, now 37. “I won the world championship and that was two weeks before the Pan Am Games in Gimli. I went to the Worlds to train for Gimli, not thinking that I would win, but I did, and I got the gold at the Pan Ams. So it was just one after the other. It was my lucky year.
“With sailing, nobody gets to see what you do because it’s off-shore and it’s a bit of an obscure sport. So Gimli (Pan Am Games) brought sailing to my friends and family. They all came out in boats and they watched from shore, and that was so special.”
Hand, who now lives in Whistler, B.C., coached at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Ireland, another speed skater, competed at his first Olympics in 1994 when he was 20, he qualified for three more (2002, 2006 and 2010).
“I’m pretty honoured to be inducted, to have your career and achievements be recognized by the province where I grew up,” said Ireland, 38, who lives in Calgary. “It is a very impressive group of inductees this year.”
Belfour, a former NHL goalie, was the only inductee unable to make it.
Centre to take on Hughes name
In the evening, she was officially inducted into the local sports hall.
In the afternoon, she had a local community club named after her.
The new recreational facility being built on the old Kelvin Community Club site on Henderson Hwy., will be named Clara Hughes Recreation Park, Mayor Sam Katz declared Saturday afternoon.
“I am absolutely thrilled with that announcement,” said Hughes, who grew up in Elmwood. “Being able to put my name and, I hope, my history and what I’ve been able to do on a place made for young people in a community where I come from, where I grew up, on the same land where I started being any kind of an athlete, it means the world to me.”
Hughes follows fellow speed skaters Susan Auch and Cindy Klassen, who have also had facilities named after them.
“I’m proud of what they’ve done and I’m proud of what I’ve been through,” said Hughes, who turned to speed skating to overcome difficult teen years. “I’m really honoured that, in my own community, that I’m able to have this, not for myself, but I hope as a reminder to all the parents and the young people that anything is possible, that a kid from this neighbourhood went out and did something big in the world.”
The local governments have committed a total of $700,000 towards rebuilding a rec facility there after the community club had been torn down over loud objections a few years ago.
“Clara Hughes is an inspiration, both for her Olympic achievements and for sharing her personal experience with depression,” Katz said in a release. “The City of Winnipeg is proud to acknowledge her unparalleled athletic career and her support for youth recreation. Clara has never forgotten the community she grew up in, so I’m pleased her name will be front and centre for everyone who uses this revitalized park.”
The park is expected to be completed in the spring of 2013.