SOCHI, Russia — Anger is her energy.
It has kept Claudia Pechstein skating until 41 and right into the Sochi Games. Now, the German is setting off for her 10th Olympic medal, and with a good chance to make it golden.
She missed the 2010 Vancouver Games because of a contested doping suspension, imposed because of suspicious blood levels but without a positive test. That gave her the motivation to keep going for another four years.
On Sunday, she is among the favorites in the 3,000 meters and also is expected to challenge for gold in team pursuit and the 5,000.
“Itching to go,” she said about the anticipation for a sixth Olympic gold medal. She showed what she might be capable of last week when she beat favorite Ireen Wust of the Netherlands in a pre-Olympic test race.
Pechstein’s Olympic endurance stretches back more than two decades, from the sloshy outdoor oval at the 1992 Albertville Games, where she won the 5,000 bronze medal, to the high-tech indoor Adler Arena on the Black Sea in Sochi.
She might have been done with the Olympics four years ago had she escaped the two-year ban.
She was near the end of a career in which she was nicknamed “Goldstein” and never had a positive drug test. But the International Skating Union said her blood profile at the 2009 Allround World Championships showed abnormal cell readings, and a suspension followed.
Backed by some German doctors, she said a hereditary anomaly was responsible for the test.
From then on, it was a fight laced with anger, stress and frustration. She went to sports’ highest court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, only to be denied reinstatement for Vancouver.
With her suspension completed, she returned to skating two years ago and vowed to clear her name. She brought a civil case for damages against the ISU last year.
“Without evidence. Without a positive doping test,” she fumed. “That still makes me angry.” She said it gave her to moral strength to continue skating at the highest level.
“I vowed that I would be in Sochi, bent on winning my 10th Olympic medal,” she said before the games.
Bob de Jong, the evergreen Dutch skater at 37, has overlapped most of his career with hers. He insists that bile alone can drive an athlete.
“She is too much in love with skating, too,” De Jong said. “She might want to exude that anger but it is not a basis for great performances.”
And those performances keep coming. In the 3,000 World Cup standings, she is second only to Sablikova of the Czech Republic. Sablikova and Wust are her toughest competitors.
Pechstein, however, has one edge on everyone. No one comes close to her experience. Wust is at her third Olympics, Sablikova her second. Pechstein has as many as both combined. So when she says “I’m relaxed, feeling great,” it is based on 22 years of skating.
There was a chance she would carry the German flag at the opening ceremony in a gesture of reconciliation, but the honor went to Alpine skier Maria Hoefl-Riesch. The long ceremony often forces athletes to wait for hours when they could be resting.
“Of course, I would have loved to carry the flag,” Pechstein said. “But considering my preparations for the race, it is better that I didn’t.”