Martina Sablikova really wanted this gold medal.
Martina Sablikova really wanted this gold medal.
Not even the Dutch were going to keep her off the top step of the podium.
Sablikova defended her Olympic title in the women’s 5,000 meters Wednesday, chasing down Ireen Wust to deny the Dutch a seventh speedskating gold.
“My feet hurt,” Sablikova said, “but I’m very happy.”
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The 26-year-old from the Czech Republic set a track record at Adler Arena with a time of 6 minutes, 51.54 seconds.
It’s not like the Dutch didn’t show up.
They added two more medals to their record haul, as Wust took the silver in 6:54.28, while 35-year-old mother Carien Kleibeuker grabbed the bronze in 6:55.66 — then scooped up her 5-year-old daughter for a victory lap around the infield.
Racing against Sablikova in the seventh of eight pairs, Wust knew she had to push the pace early and hope to hang on. She built a 2½-second lead but began to fade just past the midway point.
Sablikova went right on by — and never slowed up.
“When I saw my competitor was going ahead, I told myself, ‘Really, aren’t you going to get her?'” Sablikova said. “It gave me extra energy. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do it again.”
The standings were a reversal of the 3,000, when Wust beat Sablikova to deny the Czech skater a shot at repeating as a double gold medalist in the two longest women’s events. Sablikova was determined to hang on to her title in the 5,000, even dropping the 1,500 — an event she won bronze in four years ago — to focus her preparation fully on the final individual speedskating race of these games.
The strategy paid off.
“This was a real tough one, but that’s always the case in the 5k,” Wust said. “In the last few laps I was dying.”
That said, Wust was fine settling for silver, her fourth medal of the Sochi Olympics. Unlike the 1,500, where she was a heavy favorite but lost to countrywoman Jorien ter Mors, there was no sense of a gold slipping from her grasp.
“Now I feel like I have won silver,” she said. “In the 1,500 it felt like losing gold.”
The Dutch speedskaters have now won 21 medals overall, their single team producing more hardware than every country except Russia and the United States. They have won six of 10 events, swept the top three spots in four races, and will be big favorites to close the Olympics with two more golds in the team pursuit races, which would mean a fifth medal for Wust.
“We’re on a golden mission,” she said.
Forty-one-year-old Claudia Pechstein of Germany was denied again in her quest for a 10th career medal. She finished fifth, missing the podium by less than 3 seconds.
The lone American in the race, three-time Olympian Maria Lamb of River Falls, Wis., was last among the 16 skaters, more than 38 seconds off Sablikova’s winning time. The U.S. team has yet to win a medal in Sochi.
Kleibeuker was the oldest female speedskater to represent the Netherlands at the Winter Games. After the flower ceremony, she carried around her daughter Annemijn in a joyous celebration.
“She said, ‘Momma, you thought you would not get a medal,'” Kleibeuker said. “Fortunately, we have one now.”
Kleibeuker was 10th in the 5,000 at the 2006 Turin Games, where she witnessed a bribery attempt by two members of the Dutch speedskating team. This time, the Olympics were all about her results on the ice — and celebrating it with her family. She had not seen Annemijn for two weeks, but they were able to share a kiss just before the race.
“It is not something I would advise to anyone,” Kleibeuker said. “It requires sacrifice, but it is planning first and foremost.”
Pechstein won the 5,000 three straight times starting with the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and also had a silver and a bronze in the grueling event. She was determined to win another medal in Sochi after being banned from the Vancouver Games over a doping case which was based on abnormal blood levels rather than a positive test.
She steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, kept on skating and qualified for her sixth Olympics at an age when most skaters have long since retired. But Pechstein couldn’t make the podium in Sochi, finishing fourth in the 3,000, one spot worse in the 5,000, and 19th in the 1,500.
“It’s too bad I didn’t win a medal, but the competition was tight,” Pechstein said. “It’s a victory for me to be here again.”
So, was this her final Olympics?
“Why would this be the end?” Pechstein shot back. “I’m not going away.”
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