The Winter Olympics are in full swing. Which means speed skating and cross-country skiing is about to begin. Clara Hughes, Olympic medallist in both cycling and speed skating, will definitely be watching the events.
Even when the Winnipeg-born athlete stopped cycling to compete in skating, she never left her bike behind. Interestingly, it’s very common for speed skaters to train with their bike as much as possible, even during the season. “We travelled with bikes all the time because you can only skate so much. It’s such a punishing position to be in for your body and your back and the moment you fatigue, your technique goes. And when your technique goes and you keep pushing too much you can fatigue your central nervous system and get injured.”
During training for speed skating, Hughes and her teammates would run, lift weights, and of course, ride the bike. “It was the greatest tool which worked for me, obviously, and I think that, you know, compared to a lot of my competitors and even teammates. I was able to use the bike in a way that they weren’t really able to tap into because of my history of cycling.”
The speed skaters would not only travel with their bikes, but also a set of rollers. In fact, speed skaters would often warm before skating races on their trainer or rollers.
In training blocks between World Cups, Hughes would return to familiar terrain for camps to build her cardio. “We’d be in Tucson, Arizona, or Northern California and all the great places that I’ve done training as a bike racer, we would go in the springtime for volume and then we would even go in an Olympic year.”
“I’d go down for ten days to the desert and do volume, you know and get some sunshine and the outdoors. Because we’d be in Calgary, or Norway or Holland so much during the season,” she said. “These are places that you’re not really going to ride your bike outside. So it was just really good for getting that sunshine and also just getting a volume block in. So yeah, we’d use the bike as a tool. Plus we did all of our testing on the bike in the lab.”
Hughes made a name for herself in cycling and speed skating, and she clearly has the heart, lungs and discipline that would allow her to excel in many endurance sports. Georgia Simmerling, the Canadian athlete who has gone to the Olympics in three different sports: cycling, ski cross and alpine skiing, is another multi-disciplinary athlete. If Hughes could pick a third sport, what would it be? Turns out, she wouldn’t want a third sport, she’d rather ditch speed skating and cycling for just one.
“If I could go back, like if I could trade two sports for one, it would be cross country skiing. When we lived in Canmore for quite a while, man it was cool because you’re outside almost all the time,” she said. “You’re in beautiful mountain environments where these cross country ski trails are, and you can ski forever. And the training is big volume. It’s a big output and it’s such a beautiful way to move to me: skate skiing, classic skiing. It all feels really really natural.”
But most importantly it’s outdoors, she explains. “I really love that and I love winter. So if I could trade both my sports for one it would be cross country skiing.”
Of course, given Hughes and her success in the past, she’d want to be the best.
“I would go back as long as I could be as good as Becky Scott,” she jokes. There’s a little caveat there. Yeah, yeah, she’s an Olympic champion, you know?”
Both the speed skating and XC skiing competitions begin at the Olympics on Saturday.