- Associated Press - Thursday, February 15, 2018

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) - At 22, Dutch speedskating rookie Esmee Visser had to do some quick math to put the phenomenon that goes by the name of Claudia Pechstein into perspective.

Pechstein is still competing and will celebrate her 46th birthday at the Pyeongchang Olympics next week.

“This is as long as I have lived, and then I have to double it,” Visser said as she struggled to put a finger on the German’s sporting longevity.

And another gold medal could be in Pechstein’s future.

The German great is among the favorites for Friday’s 5,000 meters, a wide-open race in which Visser could be the toughest competition.

“It’s incredible,” Pechstein said. “I could be their mother.”

If Pechstein wins, the victory would come 24 years after her first gold medal, when she took the 5,000 title at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. She won her first Olympic medal at the 1992 Albertville Games.

In all, she has won nine Olympic medals, including five gold - a record only surpassed by Ireen Wust this week on the speedskating oval. But Pechstein is expecting more.

“I have a plan,” Pechstein said Thursday after her final training run. “And when I execute it, I will have that medal.”

She also has the proof to back up her confidence after winning a 5,000-meter World Cup race against top competition in November.

A victory on Friday would make her the oldest individual gold medalist at the Winter Games, easily surpassing biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway, who was 40 when he won the 10-kilometer sprint at the 2014 Sochi Games.

It would also cap an unlikely run that has been as infamous as it has been amazing.

Long viewed with suspicion as an athlete who was once rooted in the East German gold-medal machine and its dark doping history, Pechstein was banned from the 2010 Vancouver Games over a doping case based on abnormal blood levels rather than a positive test.

She steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and kept on skating, driven on by a burning anger that she still carries with her.

“If I had experienced Vancouver in 2010, I probably would not be here now,” Pechstein said. “Only the fight against (the International Skating Union) has motivated me to keep going.”

Pechstein won the 5,000 at the Olympics three straight times, starting in Lillehammer, and also has a silver and a bronze in the grueling event.

In Sochi, she finished fourth in the 3,000 and fifth in the 5,000. That would have been a dignified end to her career, but when asked as much in Sochi, she shot back: “Why would this be the end? I’m not going away.”


More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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