Pechstein vows to reclaim "stolen" Olympic dreams

By Karolos Grohmann

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - After having her Vancouver Olympic dreams "stolen" by a doping ban despite never having failed a test, Germany's most decorated winter Olympian Claudia Pechstein has vowed to end her career with a tenth Games medal in Sochi in 2014.

Last month's Court of Arbitration decision rejecting an International Olympic Committee rule that banned doping offenders from the next Games clears the way for her to compete in Sochi.

In 2009 speed skater Pechstein became the first athlete to be banned on suspicion of doping after a series of tests revealed irregular blood data.

The 39-year-old German had never tested positive and claimed she was the victim of a condition inherited from her father. She was still banned for two years and missed the 2010 Vancouver Games which would have been her sixth straight Olympics.

Now Pechstein wants to make amends and is eager to win one more medal at the 2014 winter Games in Russia when she will be 42.

"It is very easy to focus my mind on Sochi. I had the Vancouver Games stolen from me," she told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

"My plan was to end my career there and win my tenth Olympic medal. That did not happen so the motivation for Sochi is very easy and clear for me. I want to do what I could not do at Vancouver 2010."

Pechstein has also been considering trying to qualify for a cycling event at the London 2012 Games now that the IOC's "Osaka rule" has been scrapped, but has put a decision on hold.

"At the moment I am focusing solely on my ice skating season. London was initially thought of with the Osaka rule still in force," the skater, who is also a police officer, said.

"Now that this rule is gone I can chose where I want to be. Now I don't have to go to courts and that will save me some money as well," she said laughing out loud.

"When the season is over then I will think about London.

"I still need to crack the qualifying time and I still have some way to go. It would be nice to be in London and compete on the cycling track but on the other hand the time I have to beat is still a bit out of reach. I will give it a try."

Pechstein, who has won five Olympic golds, two silvers and two bronze medals in an unusually long skating career stretching back to the 1992 Albertville Games, does not expect any more obstacles from the IOC or the International Skating Union (ISU) with whom she is still at odds.

The IOC had banned Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou from the 2008 Beijing Games for bringing her sport into disrepute four years earlier in Athens when she missed a drugs test although the athlete had never tested positive.

"No, I cannot imagine something like that. I cannot imagine the IOC trying to stop me from competing. They know I am a fighter," she said. "I have absolutely nothing to hide. I just have to focus on myself. I was wrongly found guilty of something I did not do."


Pechstein argued throughout her row with the ISU her condition was hereditary and hired dozens of experts to verify it.

"I had never tested positive or violated another doping rule. It was all based on supposition or assumptions," she said.

"Every hematologist who was asked about my case, confirmed that my blood values are inherited from my father. Even the expert of the ISU, the Italian Professor Zanella, shares this opinion.

"Despite this, the ISU is not ready to revise their wrong conviction. Such a behavior is not understandable and has nothing to do with fair play in sports," she said.

As for the ISU, the federation keeps testing her every 10 days, according to the athlete.

"It is a hereditary case and there are fluctuations of the blood data," she said.

"The ISU is running a doping test on me every 10 days. The blood data fluctuates, even at this moment. At Inzell (world championships earlier this year) where I won the two bronze medals three of the four tests conducted showed higher than normal levels.

"At the moment the doping testing I undergo is extreme and I don't quite understand it," Pechstein said.

Pechstein, a household name in winter sports-crazy Germany, saw her public image take a hit with her doping ban.

Her return to action earlier this year prompted some harsh words from fellow athletes but the Berlin-born Pechstein said life on the skating tour had now returned to normal.

"Those who supported me back then still support me now and those who were, let's say, not my friends are still not friends now," she said. "Although you really do find out who your friends are when you go through such a situation."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann)