“Grandmother” Claudia Pechstein skates for the 8th Olympic Games
After decades of a decorated career in speed skating, Claudia Pechstein is still achieving firsts.
The 49-year-old German will become the oldest woman to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics and the second athlete – and only woman – to compete in eight Winter Games.
“Almost everyone tells me, ‘It’s amazing that you’re still competing at this level. It’s crazy,'” she said. “I love skating.”
Pechstein will tie Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai for competing in the most Winter Games.
She will surpass Anne Abernathy, a luge athlete from the US Virgin Islands who was 48 at her fifth Olympics in 2002. Abernathy was injured during training at the 2006 Games and did not compete.
Five-time Olympic champion Pechstein qualified for the mass start, an event that debuted four years ago in Pyeongchang and features up to 24 skaters covering 16 laps at the same time. He offers full sprints, jockeys for position and tactics, which a veteran like Pechstein knows well.
The owner of nine Olympic medals will turn 50 on February 22, two days after the closing ceremony.
“Every day is harder to motivate, especially when you’re not feeling great and the results aren’t showing,” she said, “but I’m still proud of myself. I can still compete with the youngest girls in the world.
Many of her competitors were not born when she won her first Olympic medal, a bronze medal at the Albertville Games in 1992, the first after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She’s a remnant of the old East German sporting machine, having grown up this side of the wall and competing as a teenager.
In 2009, Pechstein was banned for two years by the International Skating Union due to irregularities in her blood profile. The suspension was not based on a positive test, but the ISU found his blood values to indicate doping use.
Pechstein then denied the charges, as she still does today.
“I don’t do anything forbidden,” she says. “I can look in the mirror every morning.”
She lost her appeal and served the ban, her reputation taking a major hit.
She returned to the ice in 2011, but her legal battle is still ongoing. She believes the arbitration process is unfair to athletes, who are required to sign agreements obliging them to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By doing so, the athletes are giving up their right to take their case to the courts of their home country, and Pechstein believes this is unjustified. She also wants her ban overturned.
In 2016, she lost her case in Germany’s highest civil court. She refused to give up and took her fight to Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.
“I never give up. I always fight for my right,” she said. “I go to the European court, if necessary.”
Pechstein points out that if she hadn’t missed the 2010 Vancouver Olympics because of the ban, she would be playing her ninth game in China.
“They are making a very big mistake and they know it,” she said of the ISU.
Pechstein last won an individual World Cup title in December 2017, the oldest woman to do so.
“It’s not easy with this still in your head,” she said, referring to her court battles.
Pechstein is a federal police officer in Germany, where his partner, Matthias Grosse, is president of the German Speed Skating Association. They met after he emailed her in 2009 offering his support.
Its longevity and its results command respect among the youngest.
“I think it’s really good for her that she does it and likes it,” Dutch skater Femke Kok said. “Why not?”
Pechstein is far from medaling in Beijing, but just getting there is a victory.
“It’s more to me than gold,” she said.
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