Claudia Pechstein going for records in 3,000
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Still cursing the suspension which ruled her out of the Vancouver Games four years ago, German veteran Claudia Pechstein is back at the Olympics with a realistic shot at a record-breaking win in Sunday’s 3,000 meters.
In a race featuring the last three Olympic gold medalists over the distance, 2006 winner Ireen Wust of the Netherlands and defending champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic will try to spoil Pechstein’s party.
Here are five things to watch for in the women’s 3,000:
RECORDS: If Pechstein breaks into the top three, the German would become the first winter athlete with a medal at six games and it would push her tally into double figures. At 41 years, gold would make her the oldest Winter Games champion in an individual event — a day after Ole Einar Bjoerndalen took that honor by winning the biathlon 10-kilometer sprint at age 40.
“For someone pushing 42, even a last place would be considered a success,” she said ahead of the race. She may be lighthearted now, but the anger over being shut out of the 2010 Vancouver Games is still raw. The contested doping suspension was imposed because of suspicious blood levels but without a clear positive test.
TRIPLE DUTCH: Wust has been the skater to beat all season, underscoring her form by winning the European allround title last month. And the Dutchwoman has records within her reach, as well.
Already the 3,000 champion from the 2006 Turin Games, Wust added the 1,500 gold in Vancouver. And, in a nation that lives and breathes speedskating in winter, she could become the most decorated Dutch female winter Olympian with a victory in Sochi, which would bring her tally to three golds and a silver.
NO FAVORS FOR FRIENDS: Olympic medals are too hard to come by to hand out favors, even to a close friend. Defending champion Sablikova will be seeking another 3,000-5,000 long distance double. She beat her friend Pechstein in three of four long-distance World Cup races so far and is intent on doing the same in Sochi.
SURPRISE PACKAGE: The Dutch always come to the games with a strong team and a possible surprise package could be 18-year-old Antoinette de Jong, racing in her first Olympics. She is already good enough for third place in the World Cup long distance standings and only needs to look at Sunday’s favorite for inspiration. Wust won 3,000 gold as a teenager in Turin.
GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER: A local oompah band, complete with cheerleaders, kept the crowd at Adler Arena amused Saturday while the ice was being prepared. But many speedskating fans may have been wondering where the Dutch band Kleintje Pils was. The band, whose renditions of evergreen classics have become a regular staple at Winter Olympics speedskating tournaments, will only leave the Netherlands on Feb. 14 to play during the last week of competition.