CBC Sports

Olympics2012Last call for Clara

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 | 09:35 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

Back to accessibility links
Canadian sports icon Clara Hughes crossed an Olympic finish line for the last time on Wednesday, with a smile all the way. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Canadian sports icon Clara Hughes crossed an Olympic finish line for the last time on Wednesday, with a smile all the way. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Supporting Story Content

End of Supporting Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Beginning of Story Content

Clara Hughes found a fifth place showing in Wednesday's time trial tough to take, but said it was a thrill to be an Olympic competitor once again, and for the last time ever.

It's truly a privilege to have seen something special for the final time.

It's rare to see someone as remarkable as Clara Hughes giving her everything in an Olympic race. I saw her do just that in cycling's 29 kilometre time trial against a beautiful backdrop at Hampton Court as tens of thousands of delirious fans lined the course.

We spoke with Olympians who were squarely in Clara's corner. Friends like winter athletes Jenn Heil and Beckie Scott. They are gold medal champions who understood what was about to transpire on a long road on the outskirts of London.

"She's the kind of athlete that can take a challenge like this and have the ultimate performance on the day," Scott said. 

As the IOC member selected to present the medals for this race, Scott was hoping to encounter Hughes on the podium when all was said and done.

An ultimate performance is exactly what Clara Hughes would need to be successful in the quest for her seventh medal at her sixth Games. It would have made her the most decorated Canadian Olympian of all time surpassing the total of six medals she shares with speed skater Cindy Klassen.

At 39 years of age, Hughes had ambitiously resurrected her cycling career in order to get to London 2012. Cycling is where she started winning two bronze medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 

After that she laced up her skates and won four more medals at three Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake, Torino and Vancouver. She is the only Canadian to have won medals at both the winter and Summer Olympics and the only athlete period to have won multiple medals at both.

She is an iconic Olympian in the eyes of many Canadians.

In this race, try as she did, there wasn't enough in the tank. Hughes was in the hunt for a medal at the first and second splits of nine and twenty kilometers respectively. And then, gasping for air, she fell of the pace and couldn't finish better than fifth.

But it was a strong fifth - maybe the strongest fifth many people had ever seen.

After the race Hughes reluctantly referred to the broken vertebrae she had incurred in a crash in a May race in Gatineau, PQ.  She said she hadn't mentioned it earlier because she didn't want to talk about it and let it become a distraction.

Her husband Peter Guzman was there to watch the race. Glued to a monitor at the end of the course he thought it might all come together. It just wasn't meant to be but when he spoke to me afterwards he had no misgivings - none at all.

"I'm just completely happy for her, really I am," Guzman said. "It gives me joy to be able to see her race at the Olympics."

Clara herself seemed resolved to the way things turned out in London. There was a strong early challenge in the road race only to finish well back in the pack. And then the solo dash against the clock in the time trail that fell just short.

"It felt great to be an Olympian again," she beamed. "But fifth is hard to swallow. I just couldn't go any faster."

And then she made it clear to all who came to listen to this chapter of her Olympic story.  This most recent race at the Games would be her last. She left no doubt at all that there would never be another.

"This is definitely it," Hughes said. "I don't want to do it anymore. It's just too hard."

All of us in the room got the message and there were no further questions. Clara Hughes had already answered them all over the course of an incredible career.  She gave everyone who followed her story so many thrills along the way and then she said so long.

It seems to me we could use a thousand athletes like Clara Hughes in this country. She is a role model, a humanitarian and above all a champion. There is something about her that made her go head first into the wind.

She was never afraid to be great and to stay at the top for a good, long, time.  

Watch Scott's report on Clara for The National here 

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media