CALGARY, Alberta (AP) _ The question about East German speed skater Karen Kania is not whether she will win any medals at the Winter Olympics. It’s how many.
Will it be one as in 1980?
Will it be four as in 1984?
Will it be three golds to reach her own goal and tie the record of six overall by Soviet skater Lydia Skoblikova in 1960 and 1964?
Or will it be five, maybe even all gold, to match Eric Heiden’s 1980 ecord for a single Olympics?
The 26-year-old Kania is a favorite at 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 meters, and also will compete in the grueling 5,000-meter race, an inaugural event.
″There’s no question she’s going to win several medals at these Games,″ said Cathy Priestner, a 1976 Olympic silver medalist from Canada.
Heiden, now retired, doesn’t feel threatened.
″I don’t think she can win five golds. She has a good chance in all distances between 1,000 and 3,000 meters, but to win all five races would be very difficult,″ Heiden said.
″Her best bets are 1,000 and 1,500; there she is the strongest. In the 500, she could finish in the top three, but I think she is a long shot to win it. She is just not fast enough off the line. She can make that up in the 1,000 and 1,500 but not in the 500. And she doesn’t have so many good results in the longer distances.″
As someone who’s been there, Heiden doesn’t think Kania’s role as the favorite in several events will not put too much pressure on her.
″The pressure is actually relieved after the first race,″ he said. ″You get into the swing and the pressure is then off.″
Kania, a promising figure skater before switching to speed skating, says she has not made up her mind about racing the 5,000. She also does not consider herself a favorite for the 500 and says she may not even compete in the 5,000.
″That’s a question for after the 3,000 meters,″ she said of the 5,000 after competing in last weekend’s World Sprint Championships in Milwaukee.
The 5,000 is scheduled for Feb. 28, the last day of the Olympics.
In Milwaukee, Kania won the 1,000, but was beaten in the 500 meters by her perennial rival, teammate Christa Rothenburger, the 1984 Olympic champion in the event.
Kania thinks the 500-meter race will be a battle between herself, Rothenburgage of 16.
She needed six months to recover from an operation and grew in size and weight. East German sports officials advised her to switch to speed skating.
It was an easy move.
Three years after changing her sport, Kania - then known by her maiden name of Enke - took the gold medal in the 500 meters.
Four years later in Sarajevo, Kania won medals in all four races, with golds at 1,000 and 1,500 meters and silvers in the 500 and 3,000 meters.
Kania, who has said that she will retire after the Olympics, has secured her place as one of the outstanding speed skaters of all time. She has 10 world titles, three Olympic gold medals and 72 medals at various international championships.
Some of her rivals, including Blair, say the narrow lanes and tight turns of Calgary’s indoor rink could hurt Kania, who is tall for a skater at 5-foot- 9.
″I don’t think I’ve seen a stronger skater in the corners, and that’s where you really look for the technique, in the corners,″ she said.
The record supports that.would support that, too.
Kania set a world record of 1 minute, 18.11 seconds over 1,000 meters at a pre-Olympic meet in the oval, beating her previous mark by .73 seconds.
″The ice of the indoor rink at Calgary is ideal,″ she said after that meet. ″There are no impairing influences. My world record is an indication.″