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Saturday, February 23, 2002
 
Another record falls; Pechstein 5,000 champ again

Associated Press


KEARNS, Utah -- Claudia Pechstein isn't flashy, just fast.

Claudia Pechstein
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 consistently."

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 that."

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 serious-minded Pechstein.

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 my heart."

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 medals.

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 personal best.

"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 falling.

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 victory lap.

"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.