Road To The Olympic Games

Clara Hughes's finest hour

Clara Hughes won her first Olympic gold to join four other medals, and will donate money to charity.

Clara Hughes's finest moment may not have even taken place on the ice Saturday.

Which is saying something, considering that Hughes won the women's 5,000 speed skating event in Turin in six minutes, 59.07 seconds for her fifth Olympic medal and first-ever gold.

"I'm filled with an unbelievable amount of joy and I just feel completely alive at the same time," Hughes said. "I just feel like I've realized my dream."

The Winnipeg native announced soon after that she'd donate $10,000 of her own money to Right to Play, the organization run by former Olympic speed skating champion Johann Olav Koss that improves the plight of children in impoverished, war-torn areas.

"I said to myself, 'If I win my race in my bank account I have $10,000. Money is nice but it's not everything," she said.

"I call on all Canadians whatever you have to give. A little goes a long way."

American speed skater Joey Cheek donated his bonuses from winning two medals to the charity. U.S. athletes earn bonuses for Olympic medals, unlike Canadian athletes.

Hughes's place in Olympic lore was already well established prior to Turin. With a silver for Canada in the team pursuit earlier at the Games, the 33-year-old had become the only athlete in history to capture multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, with two each in cycling and speed skating.

"I didn't change anything," Hughes told CBC Sports of her approach to these Games. "I think I have so much experience at the Olympics, I just really believed in myself and that's what I've done every Olympics is I've not doubted my ability for one second."

Hughes added that she was biding her time for her signature race, knowing that other competitors were probably more worn out from several races in the past two weeks.

Hughes is yet another part of the legacy of the Calgary Games. Inspired as a teenager watching the 1988 Olympics, she took up speed skating, and in her first year in the sport earned a a silver medal at the national championships in the mass start 1,500 event.

Not long after she was encouraged by Susan Auch's sister, Andrea, to consider cycling as a summer sport. It wasn't long before she took what would be a nearly-decade long sabbatical from speed skating.

She would win bronze for Canada at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the cycling road race and time trial, and would earn medals at the world championships, Pan American and Commonwealth Games.

After the Sydney Olympics, Hughes returned to speed skating in earnest and qualified for the Winter Olympics only 13 months later.

For a time she competed in both sports. Five months after taking bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics in the 5,000, she won gold in the cycling time trial at the Commonwealth Games.

But she was soon back to being a one-sport competitor – this time on ice.

With her win on Saturday, she is now tied with short track's Marc Gagnon and runner Phillip Edwards with five medals, one behind teammate Cindy Klassen for the all-time Canadian lead.

Hughes credited her husband Peter Guzman for helping her finally capture Olympic gold. The couple live in Quebec near the Vermont border, and take frequent adventure trips.

One of the next planned excursions is in the mountains of Peru. Fitting, as she's already been to the top of the Olympic mountain.