Athlete Profile

Clara Hughes, 29, of Winnipeg started her Olympic career as a cyclist. With 11 years experience in the saddle, and two bronze medals around her neck, Hughes put the proverbial bike in the garage after the 2000 Games and started to learn the intricate techniques of speed skating. Hughes said her interest in speed skating began after seeing the event at the 1988 Calgary Games.

"I had learned to skate well before riding a bike. I competed in long-track events from the ages of 16 and 17. Some people told me I was crazy, asking how could I possibly give up something I was good at, made money doing and still had potential in. Others told me to follow my heart," Hughes wrote in a column for The Globe and Mail.

"I remember when first learning how to speed skate, watching the best skaters fly around the oval with ease, thinking, "When I am that good it will be so much easier." Experience has taught me otherwise, and I know firsthand the higher the fitness the more difficult it is to raise it. One has to train harder to maintain that level of ability, let alone improve on it. There is a fine balance of doing too much and not enough. My coach, Xiuli Wang, had devised a plan balanced in volume and intensity that would leave enough time to recover and peak for the Games," Hughes wrote.