Three days before her 50th birthday, the Winter Olympics’ oldest female competitor, Claudia Pechstein, didn’t add to her decades-long medal haul during Saturday’s speed skating mass start, but had a lovely surprise waiting anyway.
The German finished a respectable ninth, including winning one of the sprint sections. Though she missed the podium, admiring teammates honored Pechstein with replicas of her past medals.
“It’s always a dream to make the Olympics,” Pechstein said. “Some people don’t get to and I have (done) it eight times and also with nine medals.”
“It’s unbelievable and … I’m just a small old woman.”
The first woman to clinch five consecutive Winter Games medals, Pechstein laughed at suggestions her story might be coming to an end. She said she wanted to qualify for the World Cup in March and finish the season before deciding anything.
She acknowledged, however, that tiredness caught up with her between Saturday’s earlier semifinals, where she advanced in seventh, and the final.
Most of the other skaters were born after she started her professional career. Born in former East Germany, Pechstein’s first Olympics were Albertville in 1992.
She was banned for two years by the International Skating Union (ISU) in 2009 over abnormal blood levels, forcing her to miss Vancouver 2010. The ISU said at the time that the values were indicative of doping use.
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Denying wrongoing and having never failed a doping test, Pechstein battled back at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she narrowly missed out on medals in the 3000m and 5000m.
Pechstein last won an individual World Cup title in 2017, the oldest woman to achieve that. She attributes her athletic longevity to joy in the sport and backing from loved ones.
“I have really much fun with the sport,” Pechstein said. “I could actually do good at my age and I have support from my boyfriend, from my team. This makes it easier for sure if you can focus on this sport, but you also need a little bit of talent to be on the top level.”
When not competing, she will be busy coaching her niece, Nele Pechstein, a 10-year-old long track skater.
“I will push some young kids to make it … she will be an Olympic champion like me,” Pechstein said.