45-year-old speed skater eyes record 7th Olympics
When German speed skater Claudia Pechstein debuted at the Winter Olympics in 1992, she won a bronze medal in the 5000m in 7 minutes, 39.80 seconds.
On Sunday, Pechstein won a World Cup 5000m in 6:56.60, a track record in Stavanger, Norway.
Pechstein, now 45 years old, notched her first World Cup victory in three years.
“It’s unbelievable to be on top at my age,” she said, according to the International Skating Union. “Some of the other athletes could be my daughters.”
She extended her record as the oldest skater to win a World Cup race (the second-oldest was barely 38 years old at the time, according to SchaatsStatistieken.nl).
And come February, it looks like she’ll be the first woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics (she has not ruled out a bid for 2022, either).
She can become the oldest Winter Olympic medalist in an individual event and the first person to win the same individual Winter Olympic event four times (she won the 5000m in 1994, 1998 and 2002).
Four women have competed in eight Summer Olympics. Pechstein currently shares the record of six Winter Games appearances by a woman with two others, according to Olympic historians.
The overall record of seven appearances is shared by Russian luger Albert Demtschenko and Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai. Demtschenko retired after Sochi, while the 45-year-old Kasai looks likely for an eighth Olympics after placing 15th in last season’s World Cup standings.
Pechstein owns nine Olympic medals, one shy of the female Winter Games record shared by cross-country skiers Marit Bjoergen of Norway, Raisa Smetanina of Russia and Stefania Belmondo of Italy.
The latter two are retired, but the 37-year-old Bjoergen was the world’s best skier last season after taking time off to have a baby.
Bjoergen is likely to add multiple medals in PyeongChang, perhaps challenging countryman Ole Einar Bjoerndalen‘s Winter Olympic record 13 medals (Bjoerndalen is also still active, complicating matters).
Back to Pechstein.
She is perhaps best known for missing the 2010 Olympics due to a two-year blood doping ban (not for failing a test, but for irregular biological passport levels). She has denied doping and fought the ban in courts for several years after it ended in 2011.
Her path to 5000m gold in PyeongChang would almost surely have to go through Czech Martina Sablikova, who has won the last 11 Olympic or world titles.
Sablikova was third in Sunday’s race, reportedly hampered by a back injury. She relegated Pechstein to silver at last season’s world championships by 1.55 seconds at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.
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