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Clara’s Olympic dream was born on a winter’s day in 1988. For the first time, she saw, on television, speed skaters doing battle on the speed skating oval in Calgary during the Games held in her country.
However, it was on a bike that she experienced the Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta. This first participation was a master stroke, as she won two bronze medals. The first was in the individual road race and the second in the time trial. Her next Olympic experience was less satisfactory, with an anonymous 43rd place in the road race and a sixth place in the time trial. This was how the Canadian champion’s summer Olympic career ended.
The following year, Clara Hughes went back to competition, but this time in speed skating, her first love. Her exceptional qualities and the work accomplished allowed her to qualify for the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. By winning the bronze in the 5,000m, she went down in history. Before Hughes, only three athletes since 1896 had managed to win medals in both Winter and Summer Games (Eddie Eagan in 1920 and 1932, Jacob Tullin in 1924 and 1936, and Christa Luding in 1984 and 1992).
Clara could have been satisfied with this feat, but she decided to continue her prodigious sports career. She did the right thing, as at the Turin Games, she reached the highest step of the podium. Gold medallist in the iconic distance, 5,000m, she was now the only Olympian to have several medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. Her collection was completed by a silver medal shared with her Canadian relay partners in the pursuit.
For her 38th birthday, Clara challenged herself to participate in her fifth Olympic Games, this time on home soil in Canada. In Vancouver in 2010, she was nominated as the flag-bearer for her delegation at the Opening Ceremony. Twelve days later, she ended her career competing in the 5,000m, the event in which she had won her first Winter Games medal. Carried by her public, Clara gave the best of herself. After all her effort, she finished third, winning a bronze medal. As if in a dream, she stepped for the last time onto an Olympic podium for what was “perhaps the best race of [her] life at the Games”.
In 2010, Clara Hughes received the Order of Canada, her country’s highest civil distinction. A just reward for a champion who is also a role model for generations of athletes!