Sunday, February 10, 2002
Pechstein upstages teammate for gold
KEARNS, Utah -- Anni Friesinger is the new face of German speedskating, a Bavarian free spirit who poses for erotic photos and revels in taking on what she considers to be the stodgy establishment.
Claudia Pechstein is a product of the East German sports machine, a taciturn competitor who did as she was told and would never consider the antics of her younger rival.
Score one for the old guard Sunday.
Pechstein set another world speedskating record at the Utah Olympic Oval, winning the 3,000 meters while upstaging the flamboyant Friesinger.
Jennifer Rodriguez broke her own American record with a time of 4:04.99, but she dropped three spots from her surprising fourth-place showing at Nagano.
Rodriguez, a former inline skater from Miami, still has three other chances for her first Olympic medal.
"I definitely have a shot at the medal podium in the next few races, but that's not all I'm looking for," she said. "I'm looking for a personal best."
Friesinger had won every 3,000 race during the World Cup season and hoped to get started on capturing three gold medals at the Salt Lake City Games.
Instead, she didn't even win a medal. Pechstein shattered her own world record, crossing the line in 3 minutes, 57.70 seconds -- more than 1½ seconds ahead of the old mark of 3:59.26.
"Maybe I had an advantage," said Pechstein, who turns 30 on Feb. 22. "Anni really was the favorite. All the journalists talk to her. It's difficult for Anni being the favorite all the time."
The German stars have an icy relationship. Friesinger has criticized Pechstein's training regimen as too methodological. Both skaters have accused the other of feigning illness to gain a competitive edge.
Pechstein touched on "our so-called quarrels" during a post-race news conference, but balked when asked to describe her relations with the 25-year-old Friesinger.
"Every time, the same thing," Pechstein muttered. "We do have a relationship away from the sport, but we are competitors."
Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands (3:58.94) and Canada's Cindy Klassen (3:58.97) also went under the previous world record to claim silver and bronze.
It was the second record in two days at the track, which is considered the world's fastest ice.
Friesinger wound up fourth, fading badly on her final lap to finish in 3:59.39. Cooling down on the inner track, she watched helplessly as three skaters eclipsed her time.
"This time, the last laps were extremely hard on me," Friesinger said.
Pechstein has already established herself as one of the great skaters in Olympic history. She won gold in her third straight Olympics, adding the 3,000 title to consecutive victories in the 5,000 at Lillehammer and Nagano. Overall, she has won six medals.
Friesinger and Rodriguez raced together in the 13th of 16 pairs. The German blew away the American and was on world-record pace until the final 400 meters.
"I wasn't excited to be with her, because we skate different races," Rodriguez said. "But I knew if I wanted a chance at a medal, I had to go out with her."
Rodriguez pushed herself too hard in the opening laps and wound up paying at the end.
"You just want to chop your legs off and toss them in the garbage," she said.
Despite falling short of the world record, Friesinger still seemed pleased with her time, smiling and waving to the crowd. She easily eclipsed the Olympic record set by another German great, Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann, who won gold at Nagano in 4:07.29.
Expecting a child in June, Niemann-Stirnemann watched the race as a commentator for German television.
Unfortunately for Friesinger, three of the last four skaters broke the magic four-minute mark -- and eclipsed her time, as well.
Pechstein, whose previous world record was set at Calgary last March, started out ahead of the pace and, unlike Friesinger, managed to hold it together till the end.
When Pechstein crossed the line, she threw up her hands in a double peace sign and grasped her hooded head in disbelief.
Later, on the victory lap, she showed a little of Friesenger's showmanship, skating in the opposite direction and showing off for the crowd by gliding on one foot a la Michelle Kwan.
Friesinger hoped to emerge from the shadows of Pechstein and Niemann-Stirnemann at these Olympics. She got started on her promotional campaign by appearing in revealing photos, showing off a Celtic flame tattoo just above her bellybutton. She also raised eyebrows by describing speedskating as "extremely sexy, pure erotic."
She still has a chance to capture golds in the 1,500 and 5,000.
Thirty-five-year-old Emese Hunyady of Austria, competing in her sixth Olympics, briefly held the Olympic record after a run of 4:06.55. She wound up ninth.
In all, 10 of 32 skaters eclipsed the previous Olympic record.
Catherine Raney of Elm Grove, Wis., finished 13th in 4:07.59. The other American, Annie Driscoll, of Roseville, Minn., was 21st in 4:15.61.