22-year-old Martina Sáblíková (CZE) won the 3000m ladies Olympic Speed Skating at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Sunday. It was the first Olympic medal in Speed Skating in history for the Czech Republic. Stephanie Beckert (GER) (21) took silver beating her Canadian pair mate Kristina Groves (33) who won the Olympic bronze.
Nancy Swider-Peltz (USA) had by far the best race of her career defeating the world champion Renate Groenewold (NED) in a direct confrontation. Her 4:11.16 stood until Sáblíková raced in pair 11 out of 14, incidentally the same start position as winner Kramer had a day earlier. Her pair mate Masako Hozumi (JPN) had a good start but after 800 meters, the Czech lady took the lead and kept her lap times very evenly within 32 seconds. Her final time was a new track record, 4:02.53. Already during her last lap, coach Novák lifted his fists for joy. Hozumi finished in 4:07.36, which brought her an Olympic diploma (top-6).
In the next pair, Olympic 5000m champion Clara Hughes (CAN) beat Maren Haugli (NOR) and the audience was loud. Hughes finished in 4:06.01, her real strength is in the 5000m.
The energy of the home audience also carried Kristina Groves in her race against German Stephanie Beckert. “I never heard a crowd as loud as that. It gave me goose bumps.” The 33-year-old Canadian skated below the schedule of Sáblíková in the first half of the race, but then her laps got slower and she had to keep it all together to hang on to the second place. The gap with Beckert was never really big, at the most one second with one lap to go. But then Beckert showed her specialty, a sprint with flying start, and where Groves pulled out a 32.8 final lap, Beckert passed her on the final straight by with 31.6 bringing the fastest final lap on the ice. 4:04.62 was the time of Beckert, Groves 4:04.84.
At this point, Martina Sáblíková and her passionate coach jumped and he lifted her in the air, as a medal, which she had just missed four years ago in Turin, was now definitely hers and her main rivals were beaten.
In the final pair, 2006 Olympic champion Ireen Wüst skated together with Daniela Anschütz-Thoms. For the 35-year-old German it was her final shot at an Olympic medal. Wüst went off in an all-or-nothing attempt, more than half a second faster than the next best. In her first lap she gained another second on Sáblíková and although her intermediate times kept her in the lead until 1800m, the initial speed cost her the final laps. Her three last laps were 33.1, 34.0 and 35.3. Anschütz-Thoms overtook her with two laps to go, but her 32.7 and 33.5 were just not enough. With her final time, 4:04.87, she came only 0.03 seconds short for the bronze medal. “It was a dark day for me; I felt I skated my best race ever, and to lose it by such a small margin was heart breaking”, she commented. Wüst finished in 4:08.09, seventh place.
Sáblíková and her coach celebrated with an explosion of joy waving the Czech flag around. She said she had been very nervous but it turned to happiness. At the press conference afterwards, she was composed as ever. Asked about her unusual style with no less than 18 strides per corner, which has been an invention of her coach, she simply answered: “It is not a secret, it is my technique which works for me.”