Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Friesinger breaks world record to win 1,500
KEARNS, Utah -- The emotions poured out of Anni Friesinger
as she climbed atop the medal podium. Now, she'll be known for more
than her tattooed belly and racy photographs.
Anni Friesinger, who hadn't lost a 1,500 World Cup race all season, finally got her gold.
The glamorous German finally won a gold medal in Olympic
speedskating, breaking her own world record in the 1,500 meters
Sabine Voelker gave the Germans a 1-2 finish, but it was another
good day for the home team. Jennifer Rodriguez claimed the bronze --
her second of the games -- and made this American team one for the
"It's more exciting this time," said Rodriguez, who finished
third in the 1,000 on Sunday. "Last time, I couldn't really enjoy
it because I had another race in three days. I plan on enjoying
Rodriguez joined Derek Parra as a double-medalist for the
American speedskaters, adding a second bronze to the one she
captured in the 1,000.
The Americans have now won eight medals in eight long-track
events, equaling the 1980 team as the most prolific in U.S.
history. That squad was dominated by Eric Heiden's five gold
"It is special, because we've had so many different athletes on
the podium," said Rodriguez, one of six skaters who have medaled.
But the top step on the podium belonged to Friesinger, a
free-spirited Bavarian who sports a Celtic flame tattoo above her
bellybutton and has posed for erotic pictures in German magazines.
She was touted as a contender for three gold medals, but was
gaining the reputation for choking in big races.
Friesinger finished fourth in the 3,000 -- a distance in which
she was the overwhelming favorite -- and fifth in the 1,000. Her
only medal was a bronze in the 3,000 at Nagano four years ago.
On Wednesday, Friesinger, who won every 1,500 race during the
World Cup season, finally came through on the sport's biggest
"I want to enjoy this day," she said. "Now all the pressure
The relief was apparent as she took part in the medalists'
ceremony with tears rolling down her cheeks. After receiving her
flowers, she lingered on the top level after Voelker and Rodriguez
had climbed down.
"I won all my 1,500 races, so for sure you hope not to lose
this most important race of the year," she said. "I was trying
not to change stuff."
Friesinger has always done things her own way. She riled up her
teammates by criticizing their rigid training methods and accusing
them of feigning illness to gain a competitive age. Claudia
Pechstein, who won gold in the 3,000, shot back that Friesinger
acted like a "kindergartner"
"I don't think about that," Friesinger said, brushing off the
feud. "You're here now to skate for medals. Don't talk about it
Friesinger, whose mother skated for Poland in the 1976 Games,
erupted in a huge smile when her time of 1 minutes, 54.02 seconds
flashed on the scoreboard. She broke her own world record of
1:54.38, set a year ago at the Calgary Olympic Oval.
When the time held up through three more pairs, Friesinger broke
down in tears and hugged her coach.
Voelker became the first skater to win three medals at the Utah
Olympic Oval. She also won silver in the 1,000, to go along with a
bronze in the 500.
Voelker finished in 1:54.97, while Rodriguez, skating in the
final pair of the day, came across the line at 1:55.32.
American Chris Witty, gold medalist in the 1,000, was fifth.
Friesinger established the sixth world record in eight events at
the Utah Olympic Oval.
Rodriguez, a former inline skater from Miami, rose quickly in
speedskating after shifting to the ice just 18 months before the
"I don't think it's totally sunk in yet," she said after her
final race of these Olympics. "Four years ago, I would have never
thought this was possible."
She hopes her success will inspire athletes from nontraditional
skating areas. The inline-to-ice crossover has been particularly
successful at these games, where Parra (San Bernardino, Calif.) has
won gold and silver and Joey Cheek (Greensboro, N.C.) claimed a
"It would be great to open more rinks in the Southern states,"
Witty, who won bronze in the 1,500 four years ago, briefly held
the Olympic record before her time of 1:55.71 was bumped off. She
was hindered by the lingering effects of mononucleosis, but managed
to put up an impressive time considering she skated in the 10th
pair, the last group to go before the ice was resurfaced.
"To say that I would've walked away with a world record, a gold
medal and three personal bests is a little more than I expected,"
Witty said. "It just all came together."
U.S. coach Mike Crowe said Witty's illness probably kept her off
the medals stand.
"She was feeling pretty decent today," he said. "But the
1,500 is kind of a barrier for her. She had a few doubts and was a
little conservative. You can't be conservative on this ice."
Defending Olympic champion Marianne Timmer was on record pace
halfway through the race but was exhausted at the end. She
struggled across the line in 1:59.60, placing her 21st out of 33
The other American finishers: Amy Sannes was eighth and Becky
Sundstrom was 13th.