She did it all with a smile on her face as she soaked up the joy of competing on the Olympic stage one last time.
Hughes capped an incredible Olympic career with a fifth-place finish in the women's time trial at the London Games on Wednesday. She was almost a minute behind American Kristin Armstrong, who successfully defended her Olympic title.
Judith Arndt of Germany won silver and Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia was third. Hughes was about 30 seconds away from reaching the podium at the Games for a seventh time.
"I knew today, I knew in the last week, in the last month that this is the last time I would have the chance to race in the Olympics," Hughes said. "I'm really proud of what I did."
Hughes and former long-track speedskating teammate Cindy Klassen share the honour of being the country's most decorated Olympians. Hughes won two cycling medals at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and went on to capture four more in speedskating over the last three Winter Olympics.
She won bronze two years ago in Vancouver and returned to cycling later that year. Now 39, she's one of only five athletes ever to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Games.
Hughes was 32nd in the women's road race last week and nearly pulled off a podium finish Wednesday in warm, breezy conditions before a raucous crowd south of London.
Hughes was satisfied with the fifth-place result, her voice cracking with emotion as she provided thoughtful answers to questions from reporters. When asked how she wants to be remembered as an Olympian, she paused a few seconds before responding.
"I guess maybe that I just did things usually with a smile," Hughes said. "I think I could win with a smile and I could lose with a smile as well because I never fail in emptying myself in what I do. I never fail in approaching what I do in the best way. So that's what I'm most satisfied with."
"So I really hope that people will remember the way I did what I did," she added. "Not what I did, but the way in which I did it."
The other Canadian in the women's race, Denise Ramsden of Yellowknife, finished the 29-kilometre race in 19th place.
Victoria native and Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal was never a factor in the 44-kilometre men's time trial.
Local favourite Bradley Wiggins emerged victorious and the Tour de France winner was joined on the podium by fellow Brit Christopher Froome. Tony Martin of Germany won silver.
It was a disappointing Games for Hesjedal, who finished 28th overall. He was 63rd in the road race and never challenged Wednesday in a field loaded with time-trial specialists.
"I'm not really happy with either of them, but that's sport," Hesjedal said of his events. "You always want more. This is a special event. You never see anything like this in any other cycling race. Just the crowds, just everything.
"I was happy to go through the experience and give it my best."
Hughes, a Winnipeg native who lives in Glen Sutton, Que., was second overall when she crossed the line at the scenic venue near the banks of the River Thames. She was bumped down the order as the favourites crossed the line moments later.
"Honestly there were just people better than me," Hughes said. "I wasn't good enough, that's the bottom line. I felt good. I had a great race. My power was awesome and that's it. I took every corner as fast as I could. I rode smooth, I rode strong."
Hughes, sporting a red helmet and blue shirt with a Maple Leaf on the back, got off to a clean start and posted solid split times.
"It felt good. Good in the sense of it felt like hell because it was a time trial and it was 38 minutes of suffering," Hughes said with a laugh. "But in the sense of what my effort was, I suffered and that means it was a good race. That was everything."
Hughes also revealed that she fractured a vertebrae in a crash last May in Gatineau, Que. She had to undergo regular treatment sessions but kept the severity of the injury private so it wouldn't be a distraction ahead of the Games.
"I was racing and training with a broken back for six weeks," she said.
Hughes still plans to compete at other events this season but beyond that her future is unclear. Her first priority, though, was to celebrate her latest experience over a few beers with her husband.
"I just want to enjoy this day and enjoy the fact that I was an Olympian one more time," Hughes said. "That's the most important thing for me. It's always been that dream of representing Canada.
"I can say in my life I got to do it six times. It's incredible."
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