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January 14/11 15:54 pm - Interview: Clara Hughes

Posted by Editoress on 01/14/11

Clara Hughes. Speedskating Olympic gold medalist, Olympic flag bearer, Right To Play spokesperson, Officer of the Order of Canada, member of Canada's Walk of Fame ... Clara Hughes is a true Canadian superstar. But, before all that, it was: Clara Hughes, cyclist.

Clara retired from speedskating in 2010 after winning her sixth Olympic medal in Vancouver. She is the only person in the world to have won multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Olympics, with four in speedskating (a gold, a silver and two bronze) and two in cycling (bronze).



"Snowshoeing in our backcountry backyard in Utah!"


We heard from Clara last summer that she was thinking about getting back into cycling, but it became official in mid-November, and it was big news, with all the Canadian media giving it prime coverage.

The impetus for the return was the inclusion of the Team Pursuit to the women's Olympic track program, and the chance to race with Canada's new star of women's cycling, Tara Whitten - the pair have also become friends.



Clara Hughes won gold in the Women's ITT at the 2002 Commonwealth Games


We have now had a chance to have a lengthy chat with Clara, from her new home in the mountains of Utah, where she has been working to build the level of cycling fitness she needs for this next challenge.

Canadian Cyclist: It was certainly big news, when you announced that you were coming back to cycling, with a goal of competing at the 2012 Olympics.

Clara Hughes: I was kind of hoping it wouldn't be a big deal, but it didn't work out that way. French CBC [television] was doing a story on the Team Pursuit team, and they did a part on me. It didn't send the right message, I thought, so I ended up contacting Randy [Starkman] at the [Toronto] Star, because I knew he would get the right message out. I really don't like talking about what I want to do; I have so much respect for those already training on the team.

CC: After Vancouver, most people thought your retirement from speedskating meant that you were finished with 2002

CH: I've been thinking about it [returning to cycling] for a long time, because there are lots of considerations. It means nothing less than commiting your life to sport. I can't compare myself to ten years ago [when Clara left cycling], I've matured so much since then. But I knew that I would have to make major changes to my life.

After Vancouver it was pretty chaotic; for three months I didn't see my husband! I was pulled in so many directions, with the media and my charity work. So, I have put all that on the shelf, because I have to live a certain lifestyle [to be an athlete], it's mostly an emotional commitment and I have to focus my energy. It takes a lot of discipline to say no.

Basically, I've retired from public speaking and stepped back from Right To Play. This means that I have had to give up a huge source of income, but sponsors have stepped up. Also, my husband Peter has had to sacrifice so much; he gives up a lot of things we like to share.

But I look at it as ... Wow, I have a chance to apply myself to this; what a gift.

CC: So where are you now in preparing for your cycling comeback?

CH: That's a good question. I'm still changing my energy system and capacity. I have trained my system for a four minute and an eight minute effort. Coming back                                        Hughes at 2002 Commonwealth Games

to cycling is very interesting, because I have been able to bring in other training techniques.


Hughes trainer

Clara Hughes on her trainer


I see cycling is still pretty old school, and I have some different ideas. I'm interested in how I can bring speedskating ideas to cycling. I have found a coach, Chris Rozdilsky, of the PowerWatts Premier Studio in Montreal. I feel that he really gets me, and he can work with my schedule. It is motivating to find someone I click with.

After the Olympics, I sat in a kayak for two months [on a trip with husband Peter]. I felt really out of shape after that. I went to the Los Angeles velodrome for five days with the national team; I was there on a rented track bike.

Richard Wooles [national track coach] was very generous to let me try out during the testing, and I did terrible! I didn't get picked for the training camp. But I don't have a problem earning my spot, and I was able to pay my own way to the first camp, and after that I was selected for the second camp.

So, right now, I don't know when I will be ready [for competition], I'll have a better idea in February. Right now, I'm doing a lot of really hard intervals on the Computrainer in the mornings, and snowshoeing in the afternoon, and I'll be doing my own ten day warm weather training camp in Tucson. Plus, I live at altitude, 7500 feet, which helps.

CC: You said elsewhere that you aren't finished with cycling.

CH: I don't think that I've done the best ride that I have in me. On the track I'm looking forward to riding with Tara, and I really want to do the time trial at the Olympics. I dream of having a race on the bike where, when I roll across the line and I look at the clock and I think 'That's it, I'm done.'

CC: What about a team? Have you considered joining a team for road racing?

CH: I really don't want to be on a team. I did that for ten years, on some of the best teams in the world. My first team was yours, I remember getting my first bike! [Editor's Note: The Editoress and I ran the Specialized women's team in the 1980s and early '90s, which Clara started her career on]

Now I want to do my own program and work with the national team. I kind of hope I can give back some of my experience and knowledge as well.

I've had some tremendous support from the industry, from Larry Koury [Specialized Canada] and Shimano; they have come fully on board, and there are some private individuals who are helping.

I feel really lucky that there are people who believe in me.


Hughes Track

Clara Hughes on the Bromont Track in 2002



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