February 21, 1998 in Sports

Claudia Pechstein

Associated Press


Better watch out, Gunda. Claudia Pechstein is gaining on you.

“I do think it will be possible in the next Olympics to win a few more medals,” the 25-year-old Pechstein said. “I’m still at the right age to do that.”

She has a six-year advantage on Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann, her fellow German who equaled a Winter Olympics record by winning her eighth individual medal Friday even though she lost a 5,000-meter showdown with Pechstein in an electrifying conclusion to the speedskating events at M-Wave.

Pechstein, who’s always accompanied by a stuffed polar bear she carries for luck and a hacking, asthma-like cough that makes her accomplishments all the more remarkable, has five medals in her career, including a gold and silver at Nagano.

Her world-record victory in the 5,000 proved that she doesn’t have to take a backseat to Niemann-Stirnemann - or anyone else - even though it doesn’t always seem that way.

In the speedskating world, it’s usually “Gunda this” and “Gunda that.”

“I think Gunda can be very proud of all her success,” Pechstein said graciously. “That is what is first and foremost in the public’s mind.”

Niemann-Stirnemann appeared to have wrapped up the gold medal by eclipsing what she called the “sonic barrier,” becoming the first woman to skate the 5,000 in under 7 minutes.

But her world record of 6 minutes, 59.65 seconds lasted only until the next pair took the ice. Skating last, Pechstein edged Niemann-Stirnemann by a scant four-hundredths of a second, snatching away the world record and the gold medal.

“When I watched Gunda race, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll have to go for the silver because her time is unattainable’,” said Pechstein, who set the fifth speedskating world record of these Games.

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