Today we honour Cindy Klassen, Winnipegger, speed skater, Olympian, world record holder, and role model. As the front page of the March 20, 2006 Winnipeg Free Press summarizes, we welcome Cindy Klassen: "Best in the World".
Cindy Klassen was born and raised in Winnipeg and while she was interested in many sports during her youth, her main interest was ice-hockey. She excelled at this sport. For example, she was on Team Manitoba at the Canada Winter Games in 1995, and was a member of the Junior National Team at Lake Placid in 1996. Her goal was to be selected for the Canadian Women's Hockey Team for the 1998 Winter Olympics, but this was not to be. She continued playing hockey while attending the University of Manitoba, but felt she needed another sport to supplement her training. She chose speed skating, and as they say "the rest is history". She was also a member of the Women's Field Lacrosse Team for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and the In-line Speed Skating Team which competed at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.
Cindy Klassen's "Best in the World" status is remarkable, not only for her significant achievements, but also because she has only been involved in speed skating for eight years. This, plus the fact that she suffered what many thought could be a career ending injury in 2003 adds to the significance of her achievements. The injury resulted when she fell into another skater and suffered a ten centimeter laceration and 12 torn tendons in her right forearm, She overcame the odds against her competing in the 2003/2004 season, indeed perhaps ever again, and she persevered and competed in the World Single Distance Championships in March of 2004, albeit with a splint on her arm, and won silver and bronze medals.
The following is a brief summary of the significant achievements of Cindy Klassen, Canada's "Greatest Olympian", as a speed skater: The most Olympic medals in a single games (in 2006, five medals - one gold, two silver, and two bronze) and the most Olympic medals won by any Canadian (five in 2006, and one bronze medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City), exceeding the previous record of three medals. She was named "The Woman of the 2006 Games" by the International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. The first Canadian in 27 years to win the overall title at the World Speed Skating Championships (in 2003). At the 2006 World All-Round Speed Skating Championships (in Calgary, March 2006) she achieved a gold medal for the total points achieved, setting a new world record, and took four gold medals in individual races including a world record in the 3000 metres. Finally, in 2005 she was named Canadian Female Athlete of the Year.
Cindy Klassen's relatively short career as a speed skater is epitomized by: determination, hard work, perseverance, commitment, humility, and enthusiasm. For those with an interest in sport and indeed for those involved in other endeavours with the will to do "one's best", it would be difficult to select an individual who would make a better role model than Cindy Klassen. Television footage of Cindy Klassen's local high school following her performance clearly indicated the tremendous impact she had on both the students and teachers of her school. An entry on the web summarizes what many view as Cindy Klassen's impact as a role model: "I had never really watched speed skating before and to be honest I am not normally too fussed about the Winter Olympics. However, like many people I was taken aback by your staggering achievements this year - all in the face of enormous pressure. As many people have already said - the most staggering of all was the attitude you displayed after having this kind of success; not a shred of arrogance, nothing bad to say about any competition, "no attitude", complimenting other team members and thanking coaches. What a phenomenal example to have set for young people in this city and this country. If that is what Canadian is, I'm glad to be a part of the Club!"
Cindy Klassen has brought much excitement and pride to Winnipeggers and to Canadians. She has responded to the international attention she has garnered with calmness and humility, which has, in addition to her significant achievements, made all of us proud to be Winnipeggers, Manitobans and Canadians. Cindy has brought much positive publicity to her city and country. The "pride factor" can perhaps best be summarized by a quotation from a Winnipeg fan (posted on the web): "You are truly an inspiration to us all. You made me feel so proud to be a Canadian and more proud to be a Winnipegger. Words cannot express enough how the city, and the country, appreciate your efforts on being the best you can be."
Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to ask in the name of the Senate of the University of Manitoba that you confer upon Cindy Klassen, the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
-citation delivered by Dr. Dennis Hrycaiko, Dean, Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Studies