It‘s been a tough old week for Claudia Pechstein. The most decorated German Winter Olympian of all time must feel as if she‘s trying to break her old 5,000m speed skating world record on sand the ways things are panning out for her at the moment. Her racing career is a shambles, her professional one in danger and now her marriage is over too. A fairytale that started with one of unified Berlin’s first weddings at the Rot Rathaus has ended after nearly 13 years.
“I want to make no secret of our separation, but please respect that this is a private matter for us”, was her statement, which was respectfully splashed on most of the front pages and respectfully filled in plenty more further back in the tabloids. You see Claudia is Berlin royalty, though as the Kurier’s inspired “Fuckingham Palace” headline following Fergie‘s recent misadventures shows, she is at least getting a bit more respect than some.
Born in East Berlin in 1972 she was skating at three years old, but it was when she switched to speed skating that she really started to show promise. As a junior vice-World Champion for the DDR at 16, she hooked up with her biggest influence, a legend of East German ice sport, and still her coach today, Joachim Franke to prepare for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. He was a king of the Hohenschönhausen sports complex that had been home to Berlin’s most successful sports teams, most of them called Dynamo. Franke had been a seven time DDR ice hockey champion and a successful coach before turning his hand to bringing through the next generations of speed skating stars. It is arguable that these very successes would supply the stick for the skating world with which to beat the shit out of his new charge in years to come.
Few arenas are as paranoid as high profile Olympic sports and when you add in the influence of a hated regime with a little, er, previous in these aspects then it‘s easy to see how Pechstein could get caught up in a doping scandal like a Crayfish in a Louisiana oil slick. It is easy to underestimate just how powerful the DDR were (bearing in mind the country only participated in the Winter Olympics for the 20 years between 1966 and 1986 and it still managed to come 7th in the all time winners list), and alongside many of their comrades that participated under the Dynamo moniker, memories have lasted a long time when it comes to sporting scores being settled.
This is not to imply that the former Eastern republic hadn‘t been doping. An enormous programme administered by over a thousand scientists was put in place and the plan to take the Socialist sporting successes into the eyes of the world was given the snappy name State Plan 14.25, but world class facilities, and coaches of the quality of Franke don‘t hurt.
It‘s not often he gets a mention from the Sports desk, but when Gerry Adams said “One man’s transparency is another man’s humiliation”, he was not wrong. Pechstein had won nine Olympic and 34 world championship medals, setting six world records, by the time she was suspended in 2009 by the sports’ governing body the ISU.
Her claim that the abnormal levels of red blood cells she has are a consequence of an inherited form of anaemia has been backed up at the highest levels and it remains a startling fact that she has never failed a dope test, and has had her career and reputation destroyed on circumstantial evidence alone. Dick Pound was happy with this, but you‘d expect that from the bastard offspring of Donald Rumsfeld and one of the German Shepherds you see on the way in at Schönefeld.
The legal grey areas adding to her argument despite her lateness in coming out and contesting the claims were highlighted in a public letter (that was published in Bild), with the fabulously fence sitting headline “Liar or Victim“”. It is a sign of her status that a paper such as Bild would give themselves a get out clause, not normally being shy of an opinion, informed or not.
Her case went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and failed. She took it to the highest Swiss court to try and get that ruling overturned, but that has also failed. Oh, the last ruling could mean she could lose her “day job” as a police sergeant too.
So next time you are whinging about how your life has gone to shit as you crack open that next Sternburg, have a think about Claudia Pechstein. Compared to her, your last couple of years have been a fucking blinder.