Posted by Editoress on 08/2/12
Clara Hughes, one of Canada's greatest Olympians, rode her final Olympic race yesterday, finished fifth in the women's time trial. During her career, Hughes won two medals in cycling at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and then four in speedskating, making her one of a handful of athletes to have won medals in both summer and winter Games, and the only person in history to have won multiple medals in both.
Between the numerous post-race demands on her time, Clara sat down with us for 15 minutes to talk about her final race and plans for the future.
Clara Hughes heads to the finish of her final Olympic race
Canadian Cyclist: So, your final race?
Clara Hughes: Yeah ... someone from the outside might look at it and say 'are you disappointed with fifth place?' But honestly, it was everything I had, I couldn't have gone harder today, and I was fifth best in the world. That's just the bottom line.
Everything was really good - I had really good preparation, my equipment was awesome ... everything that I used and wore was absolutely the best. There was nothing I could have wanted for. I could just have wanted for stronger legs on the day, but that was it ... I did the best I could and that's all it is.
CC: Were you surprised with how strong some of the other riders were? Were they stronger than you expected here?
CH: No, no. When I finished the race, I know by how I felt that that wasn't a medal performance. I gave it everything I had, but I can say that I didn't feel awesome, that extra little bit of something that I've felt when I've had great performances at the Olympics.
I didn't feel that physically, not because I wasn't prepared, I just felt really, really good ... and really, really good isn't enough at the Olympics. Not at this level.
CC: When we talked at Nationals, you said your back was still bothering you from your crash at Gatineau, but now you've revealed it's more than that?
CH: It was actually fractured in that crash, I fractured the spinous process [the bit that sticks out and attaches muscles and ligaments] on the T7 vertebrae, and it was really a living hell for six weeks. There was so much pain.
At Nationals, that was kind of when the pain started subsiding somewhat. I was able to train and race through it, so I was really lucky that it wasn't an injury that put me on my back. It was just really, really painful. I've never in my life experienced that kind of pain on a daily basis, over and over and over again. Basically any time I moved my right arm it was like someone was stabbing me in the back.
I was lucky that I have a really good osteopath in France who I ended up going and seeing before the Giro d'Italia [Giro Donne], and he was able to unlock what was causing all the pain. The actual fracture itself wasn't what was causing me the pain, it was that the joint was completely locked, so when I moved my arm, all the muscles were yanking on the rib which was stuck to the vertebrae; that's what was giving me the pain.
So I was lucky, even though I was unlucky, because I really didn't have to back off training or racing at all. And eventually it did heal, and I've been pain-free since I saw my osteopath, so that worked out really well and I was able to prepare 100% ... so I don't think it held me back at all. It was just really annoying and painful.
CC: So are you 'Done - Done', or will you do Worlds?
CH: I'm pretty sure that I want to do the [new] team time trial for the world championships, it's really important for my team [Specialized-lululemon]. Believe me, right now, no, I don't want to do that, but I'll step away from this, and I'll remotivate, and I find a lot of inspiration racing with my team mates, and I look forward to that. But this was definitely my last Olympic race.
And I say that with a really big smile, because it was a gift to be able to do this. It really was, and to be a part of the national team right now ... it's just in a really good place. They gave me all the support I needed.
B2ten [a private corporate group that raises money for athletes] supported me, but it was also the support of Jacques Landry [High Performance Director] and the national team that allowed me to take everything that was around me and utilize it, and they really let me do this in my own way, and I appreciate that so much.
There's just a lot of good people right now in the sport, and I cannot wait to see the track events and the mountain bike events here, and just see where the national team grows and goes from this place. I just think it's a really beautiful beginning for, I hope, many years of success to come. Especially with Ryder's Giro d'Italia win, I just think that there's this turning point that may be happening in our country with cycling. It's really cool.
CC: We've seen Canadian riders coming back to the sport - Jacques' come back, and Denise [Kelly - women's road endurance coach], Curt's [Harnett] is getting more involved ....
CH: and Gord Fraser ...
CC: Yes, Gord as well ... Are we going to see you maybe getting involved in some stuff?
CH: No, not in that capacity, but I hope I can always be involved, just in terms of mentorship or even ... I've been kind of trying to help the girls that I see on the road [national program], that have really good potential, I'll do everything I can to help get them on the good teams on the road, and I'll always be here for any young athlete ... or old athlete too [laughs] ... that maybe wants some advice or wants to ask some questions. 100%, I'll always be there, but as a job? No thanks!
CC: So what is next? After the last  Olympics you went on a canoe trip; anything else planned?
CH: There's a big announcement happening tomorrow, with one of the things I'm doing [Clara is joining Right to Play's International Board of Directors]; it will bring me to Africa in the near future, and other than that ... I don't know.
You know, I really just want to ride my bike and not have to go hard ... so I can see a bike tour in the near future, with my husband [Peter]. That would make both of us really, really happy.
CC: So looking back, from your first Olympics, in 1996, and now your sixth, that's quite a span. What's your perspective on how things have changed in cycling?
CH: I think cycling is in as good or a better place than it was in Atlanta [when Canada won five medals in cycling]. I say probably better, because of what is in place now. In Atlanta we had huge success, but there was nothing in place to sustain that, and now I really hope the team is going to have success here, because it will validate what's been put in place, and what is going to blossom. What they have in place now is sustainable, and it will grow if it gets the funding and support it needs. If it gets those two things it will just take off, and we can become one of the best cycling nations. It's pretty awesome to see, and I'm just blown away, and really hopeful and happy for the sport in Canada.
There are so many good young riders. Denise Ramsden is awesome, and I look at Jasmin [Glaesser] and Gillian [Carleton], I mean there's so many young ones coming up ... on the guy's side, I don't know if it's ever been this strong, and so many of them are young.
So, it's cool.