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Klassen among inductees into Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame

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The Canadian Press
4/2/2014 5:20:04 PM
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CALGARY -- Kyle Shewfelt's Olympic gold medal in gymnastics shines bright a decade later because it is the first and only of its kind in Canada.

Unlike the Olympic champion who has a teammate or hero to follow or emulate, Shewfelt blazed his own trail to win the floor routine in 2004. He is the only Canadian to win an Olympic medal of any colour in gymnastics.

The Calgarian is among the athletes, builders and coaches who will be inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in June.

He'll join speedskater Cindy Klassen, the victorious men's eight rowing team of 2008, speedskating coach Marcel Lacroix, hockey coach Pat Quinn and the late, former Alberta premier Ralph Klein among the 2014 inductees.

Sports journalist Richard Garneau, who covered 23 Olympic Games, will receive the Canadian Olympic Order posthumously.

While Shewfelt agrees no Canadian beat a path to the podium for him, he didn't feel isolated in his quest.

"Why did it happen for me? I wasn't by myself," Shewfelt said. "I had tons of supporters, amazing teammates, my national federation was so supportive of the dream. They sent me around the world when I was 17 to get that experience. I just never wavered in my belief that it was possible.

"I watched the Russians, I watched the Americans, the Chinese and the Japanese and I imagined myself being just like them. I did have incredible Canadian ambassadors in sport, Jennifer Wood was my idol, Curtis Hibbert, Stella Umeh, these are people I really looked up to.

"For myself, I wanted to take it to the next level and I guess it took a lot of courage for myself to do that, but it was something I was willing to risk. I knew as an athlete that when I ended by career, I wanted to look back and have no regrets. I had to chase the biggest dream possible."

Shewfelt, 31, retired in 2009 after competing in three Olympic Games. He broke both legs in competition less than a year out from the 2008 Summer Games, yet finished ninth in the vault and 11th in the floor routine in Beijing.

Shewfelt, who has a vault named after him, recently opened a gymnastics school in the city.

The Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame was established in 1949. It is housed in the Frank King Olympic Visitor's Centre at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park about a kilometre from Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

Previous inductees into the Olympic Hall of Fame include wrestler Daniel Igali, swimmer Mark Tewksbury, synchronized swimmer Caroline Waldo and sprinter Donovan Bailey.

The class of 2014 was revealed Wednesday in downtown Calgary along with the announcement that the city will host a three-day celebration June 4-6 of Canada's performance at the Sochi Games.

Shewfelt and Lacroix, who coached Christine Nesbitt and the men's pursuit team to Olympic gold in 2010, attended the news conference. Quinn and members of the men's eight participated in a conference call.

Klein spearheaded Calgary's bid for the 1988 Winter Games when he was mayor of the city. Alberta's premier from 1992 to 2006 died last year at the age of 70.

Winnipeg's Klassen won five medals, including one gold, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee at the time, labelled her "the woman of the Games."

With six career medals, she and Clara Hughes are Canada's most decorated Olympians of all time. Klassen, 34, did not compete in trials to qualify for Sochi because of a concussion. She has yet to announce her retirement from speedskating.

Canada won the first men's hockey gold in 50 years in 2002 with Quinn behind the bench. Canadians were still stinging from finishing out of the medals four years earlier when NHL players first participated in the Winter Games.

It didn't help that Canada got off to a rough start in Salt Lake City with a loss to Sweden.

"In the first game, we had eight lousy minutes," Quinn recalled. "Everybody was down after the first loss to Sweden. By the time we reviewed the tape of the game, we knew that we weren't that far off. Even though the score was ugly, the game wasn't ugly."

The leadership of Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Joe Nieuwendyk steered the team through choppy waters and also got young players on the team to toe the line, Quinn said.

"Our leadership took over and said 'this is the way we're going to do it,"' Quinn said. "That was when we simply had a change in our mindset about what team means. We got these young guys paying attention through the process.

"That's what saved us in Salt Lake. Our goal was to get better shift by shift because we had no real practice time and that's where the coach needs his team to come together is through practice. We used the early games as a practice to get ready for the final round."

The men's eight of coxswain Brian Price, Andrew Byrnes, Ben Rutledge, Dominic Seiterle, Kyle Hamilton, Malcolm Howard, Jake Wetzel, Adam Kreek and Kevin Light led the final from start to finish to win gold in Beijing.

It was a tale of redemption after a heavily favoured Canadian crew finished out of the medals four years earlier.

The Canadians dodged early pitfalls in Beijing. Primed and ready for their first heat, races were cancelled that day due to lightning.

"Picture a bunch of racehorses or dogs at a race track and they're all revved up to go and attack and they have all this energy and adrenaline built up," Kreek explained. "We were like these racehorses ready to run, these hunting dogs ready to pounce."

With officials hustling boats off the course, Price used what little time they had to get hard rows in as they headed for the docks.

"We didn't have to go back and sit on bikes or on the rowing machine and try to get some work in," Hamilton said. "We were able to manipulate the situation to make sure we got our work in and were ready to go.

"Instead of just paddling back, Brian had already shifted us into the next day into the next race plan. That really kind of set us up for the next day, set us up for the regatta and told the young guys on the crew that we were ready to go, we knew what we were doing and we could handle every situation."

They needed that composure the following day. Not 500 metres into their heat, the Australians blew a rudder and veered towards the Canadian boat.

"We're seeing this Australian boat coming towards us and it's going to pierce right through our hull," Kreek recalled. "The eight of us won't act unless Brian says something. Brian sees the Aussies coming at us and says 'take five strokes now'.

"All eight of us take the biggest strokes of our life. We barely missed the Aussie boat as it skidded right behind our stern."

Lacroix coached Nesbitt and the men's pursuit team of Denny Morrison, Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky to gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

Now the associate director of sport at Calgary's Olympic Oval, Lacroix says Canada's sport system now recognizes and values the coach's contribution to an athlete's performance.

One example is the Canadian Olympic Committee now pays medal bonuses to coaches of Olympic medallists.

"From the provincial level all the way to the national team and to the COC, there is a big push in terms of recognizing the profession of coaching," Lacroix said.

"It has become a profession. Now with the bonuses that are given to the coaches for their effort, I think it is showing a lot of respect for that profession at all levels."

Cindy Klassen (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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