February 23, 2002
Clara Hughes never had visions of becoming a globally recognised athlete.
By her own admission, she “got into a lot of trouble” growing up. The Canadian recalled: “I was one of those students who didn’t care about anything. I was involved in a lot of drinking at a young age – and drugs, and smoking a pack a day.”
But Hughes decided to transform her life through sport. First came speed skating at the age of 16, with cycling following the next year.
It was at the latter where she was encouraged to push herself.
The cycling career path proved a successful one with medals coming at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and, most tellingly, at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
There she bagged double bronze in track cycling – in the road race and time trial. Hughes focused on cycling in the ensuing years before pursuing her other sporting ambition of speed skating at the age of 28 in 2000.
“I was one of those students who didn’t care about anything. I was involved in a lot of drinking at a young age – and drugs, and smoking a pack a day.”
By 2002, she had qualified for the Olympic Summer Games in Salt Lake City and promptly won a bronze medal at the 5,000m.
In so doing, she became just the second woman ever to win a medal at both the Summer and Winter Games.
Four years later over the same distance at Torino 2006, she won gold and celebrated the event by donating USD 10,000 of her own personal funds to the charity Right to Play. Her cause was supported by fellow Canadians who raised a further half-a-million in the ensuing months.
At Vancouver 2010 on her “home” Games, Hughes picked up a USD 10,000 bonus for picking up a medal – this time a bronze – which she duly handed over to a charity using adventure-based learning to help at risk youngsters.
She was Canada’s Olympic flagbearer at that Games, which looked like being her last when she made the decision afterwards to switch back to cycling for London 2012.
Focusing on the road, she was 32nd in the road race and came agonisingly close to a medal in the time trial, finishing fifth overall, after which she retired once and for all.