The path from her troubled childhood to multiple time Olympic medallist and flag bearer for a hosting Olympic nation might not be what you expect, and certainly isnt the norm. But it has worked for her & now she is set to put another notch on her already amazing resume when she becomes the flag bearer for Canada in an Olympics on her home soil.
Clara will be trying to keep a couple impressive streaks alive for Canada as the flag bearer in the winter games. The last two flag bearers, Danielle Goyette (hockey 2006) & Catriona Le May Doan (speed skating 2002) both won Gold in their respective events. In fact, of the 5 females prior to Hughes to be selected, all of them won a medal in the games they were flag bearers. Goyette & Lemay Doan, Sylvie Daigle in 1992 won Gold in speed skating, Karen Magnuson with silver in 1972 figure skating & Nancy Greene in 1968 with a Gold and Silver in skiing. The men of recent years have not had the same luck when being chosen.
For Hughes, this will be her 3rd Winter Olympic games, and 5th Olympic games in total. Already a winner of 5 Olympic medals, the 2nd most in Canadian Olympics history to Cindy Klassen with 6, Hughes is also the only Canadian man or woman to win medals in the Summer and Winter games. Ontop of her Gold, Silver & Bronze medals in speed skating, she is also a 2 time bronze medalist in Cycling in 1996. Clara is one of only 4 Olympians ever to accomplish the feat of a medal in both winter & summer games.
Being flag bearer is something that Clara in the past was not wanting to do. She stated she did not want the honour for the 2006 games. She went out in those games & won 2 medals, which along with her bronze in 2002, gave her 1 of each colour. Now 37 years old, Hughes, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba is ready for that responsibility.
A former World record holder in the 10000 metres, Hughes is one of the best there is in long track speed skating. On top of her Olympic medals, Clara has some top World Cup gold medals as well in the 3000 & 5000 metre events. These are the events she will be competing in when she comes to Vancouver, the 3000 & 5000, since there is no 10000M event for women.
Her bicycling career is nothing short of amazing either, with 18 National championships, 8 Pan American medals, 1 World championship silver and a glut of other accolades, her cycling career would be enough to make her one of the greatest Canadian female athletes in history already. When you add in her speed skating legacy, she could arguably be the greatest female athlete in Canadian history.
This career started out quite differently than most great Olympic athletes. It was not till she was 16, watching the 1988 Winter Olympics & seeing a bio on Gaetan Boucher winning gold for Canada in 1984 that she got the itch to be a speed skater, let alone an athlete of any type. She was a party girl in her early days, stemming from the split of her parents, she was seemingly headed for a wasted life. Bad grades, running away from home multiple times, no motivation to be something great, experimenting with drugs & drinking. This was the life Clara had early on. Its unlikely anyone at that point saw a great Olympic athlete in their midst. Then came the '88 Olympics & something clicked. Shortly thereafter her mother got her in a speed skating program & after a couple small bumps along the way, shes never looked back.
In Vancouver next month, Clara Hughes will look to try & tie or surpass Cindy Klassen as the most decorated Canadian athlete of all time (Klassen has 1 even at the 2010 games herself). She is afterall still a legitimate threat for a medal in the 5000 metres, as well as a possible medallist in the 3000 metres. If there is 1 thing her career & career path has taught us, its this, dont doubt anything Clara Hughes sets her mind to. If she is standing on the medal podium again these Olympics, no one should be surprised.