Saturday, February 23, 2002
Another record falls; Pechstein 5,000 champ again
KEARNS, Utah -- Claudia Pechstein isn't flashy, just fast.
Claudia Pechstein won her second gold of the Games, and became just the second speedskater to win three consecutive Olympic titles.
The quiet German upstaged flamboyant countrywoman Anni
Friesinger for the second time, winning Olympic gold in the 5,000
meters Saturday with a world-record time.
Pechstein earned her second gold medal of these games, and
became only the second speedskater to ever win three consecutive
Olympic titles in the same event. Bonnie Blair won the 500 in 1988,
'92 and '94.
"I was really happy to get gold in the 3,000," she said. "I
didn't want to put pressure on myself in the 5,000. I'm very happy
to have won."
Pechstein, who turned 30 on Friday, skated the 12½-lap race in 6
minutes, 46.91 seconds -- bettering by 2.31 seconds the mark set 90
minutes earlier by Gretha Smit of the Netherlands.
"I definitely watched her race. That was a really, really good
time," Pechstein said. "I knew I had to do my race very
Pechstein was behind Smit's pace heading into the final lap, but
used a powerful closing kick to skate the final 400 meters in
32.05. Smit's last lap was 34.77.
Smit won a silver in 6:49.22.
"I'm very happy," she said. "I couldn't go any faster than
Clara Hughes of Canada became the fourth athlete to medal in the
Winter and Summer Games, taking bronze in 6:53.53. Hughes was a
double-bronze medalist in cycling in 1996.
"Being new to the sport, I don't set limits," Hughes said. "I
just skate my heart out. It was the race of my life."
Pechstein again got the best of Friesinger, whose racy photos
and Celtic flame tattoo on her stomach sharply contrast with the
Pechstein won their first showdown in the 3,000, setting a world
record en route to the gold. Friesinger failed to even get a medal.
This time, Friesinger faded to sixth. She had won all five
long-distance World Cup races this season, with Pechstein finishing
second in four of those.
Skating in the final pair, Friesinger crossed the line in
6:58.39. Pechstein had gone just before her younger rival.
"I knew it would be very hard to beat that," Friesinger said.
"I just tried to focus on my technique. Through 3,000 meters, I
had nice technique and nice rhythm. But then I couldn't breathe
anymore because the air was so dry. I couldn't do anything."
Friesinger won't go home empty-handed, however. She earned gold
in the 1,500 -- one of Germany's eight speedskating medals.
"No one can take away my medal," she said. "It's so deep in
In a sign their frosty relationship may be thawing, Pechstein
paused on her victory lap to hug Friesinger.
"She skated an amazing race," Friesinger said. "It had to be
hard. Gretha Smit skated an amazing race and sets a new world
record, but Claudia was not nervous. She's so cool. What more can
you say? It's crazy."
Pechstein now has seven career Olympic medals, including four
golds, the most by a German athlete in the Winter Games. She is one
away from tying countrywoman Karin Enke for most speedskating
Smit began the final day of speedskating by setting a world
record in the first pairing. Her time bettered the old mark of
6:52.44 by German great Niemann-Stirnemann, set at the Utah Olympic
Oval last March.
Pechstein established the eighth world record in 10 events at
the Salt Lake City Games, topping the previous mark of seven set at
the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Only the records in the men's and
women's 500 races failed to fall.
Catherine Raney was the top American finisher, placing ninth
with a national record time of 7:06.89 -- 10 seconds lower than her
"It exceeded all my expectations by far," Raney said. "I
wanted to skate a 7:10 and now I have a 7:06. It's so cool."
Annie Driscoll of Roseville, Minn., was last among 14 skaters
who finished, coming across in 7:35.23 but bettering her personal
best by almost 12 seconds. Two other skaters dropped out after
The taciturn Pechstein showed off a playful side, donning a wig
in the black-and-red colors of Germany for the flower ceremony. She
tossed her flowers into the crowd and took a bow while skating a
"I didn't want to bring (the wig) because I thought it would be
bad luck," she said. "But after I won I was able to pull it out
and wear it."
Pechstein won her two previous Olympic titles over
Niemann-Stirnemann, who didn't compete in these games because she's
pregnant. Pechstein won in '94 in 7:14.37, then set a world record
of 6:59.61 to win at Nagano four years later. Pechstein's 1998 win
by a mere .04 seconds was the closest 5,000 in Olympic history.
The United States failed to win a medal in the final two events
at the oval, but tied Germany and the Netherlands for most
speedskating medals. Each nation won eight.