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Claudia Pechstein’s hair was platinum blonde when I met her. Cut just above the shoulder. Her jaw was certain, her eyes a piercing sapphire blue. She looked like a policewoman, which she was, and is of course. She looked like any one of the hundreds of them that fill the ludicrous looking Estrel hotel near Sonnenallee S-Bahn on the days leading up to May the 1st.

You can see them outside the angular mirrored monstrosity at the end of every April, admiring the personnel carriers and the watercannon parked out front. Smoking heavily. In civilian clothes but strangely still looking like police. They can’t help it.

It’s a copper’s cross to bear.

She answered my questions, delivered in faltering German, with patience, good humour and a steady stream of engaging smiles. It’s not what I expected.

Because everyone always made her sound like such an arsehole.

I was interviewing Pechstein five years ago for the Exberliner, but I’d promised she’d be the cover star and she wasn’t in the end. I felt bad about that. I didn’t want her to think of me like all the other journalists who have used her, who have relied on her to fill up column inches, knowing she’ll say something she shouldn’t.

Her agent sent me some glamorous photos of her to be used, taken to show a sexy, non-sporting, non-authoritarian side to Germany’s greatest ever Winter Olympic athlete, but they were unconvincing. It’s not that she’s not pretty, but they were trying too hard. A forced smile. A demure though slightly revealing dress. Too much make up.

They were clumsy, which is the one thing a photograph of Claudia Pechstein should never be. It was like she was allowing herself to be dragged into the petty “zickenkrieg” against Anni Friesinger that was so lapped up by the tabloids all over again.

I wanted to tell her that she’s better than that. I wanted her to be able to celebrate her extraordinary achievements for what they are, and not try to give the world something that she is not.

Because when you see her in her natural habitat Рon the ice at the Wellblechpalast in Hohensch̦nhausen, where she feels most comfortable Рshe is the most graceful, beautiful creature on earth.

Her legs barely seemed to move. Her movements were fluid, her head completely still, her upper body too. She was as if become the stylus, the fixed point hovering above a turntable. She was moving at close to 30 miles an hour and it looked like she was barely moving a muscle.

She was at the heart of the universe. It spun all around her. Just her and her skates.

Which is why she decries all those who have slandered her over the years. those who called that worst of insults for one as dedicated and arrow straight as her.


She’s won five Olympic gold medals. She’s travelled faster on ice than almost any other woman on earth.

Yet large swathes of the people and the press turned their backs on her because she had a big mouth and kept saying what she thought. When they’d rather she just smiled and looked pretty and played their stupid games.

And then they called her a fucking cheat because she inherited a genetic imbalance from her dad that meant her blood had too many reticulocytes.

The fight to clear her name would take a decade and counting. It’s cost her all of her money. It cost her mental health. It almost cost her life.

I asked her my last question as she told her sponsors waiting at the next table along to just keep waiting a little while longer. She was busy, she said. She thought about what she wanted to say. It was about everyone who had doubted her.

“I’m not resentful but I don’t forget.”

“Like an elephant?” I say.


It was a terrible simile, at best.

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