Niemann brings gold to Germany

February 10, 1992|By ASSOCAITED PRESS

ALBERTVILLE, France (AP) -- What happens if you're the 3,000-meter world speed skating record-holder and the ice isn't frozen solid for the biggest race of your life?

If you're Gunda Niemann, you win your first Olympic gold medal ever and unified Germany's first gold medal in four decades.

"For all the German team, I am very proud," said Niemann, who broke into tears several times during the medal ceremonies. "To see the flag and to hear the anthem was very moving."

Despite weather that was more like a day at the beach than a winter's day, a mushy track and a slight slip early in the race, Niemann dominated yesterday as she has on the World Cup circuit the last two seasons, winning by nearly two seconds.

Niemann, 25, the predominant women's middle-distance skater since her seventh-place finish in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, finished in 4:19.90.

Warnicke, 25, also of Germany, took the silver medal in 4:22.88, and Emese Hunyady of Austria took the bronze in 4:24.64.

No Americans were a factor.

Mary Docter of Madison, Wis., a four-time Olympian, was 15th in the 26-skater field, finishing in 4:34.51. Angela Zuckerman of Milwaukee was 22nd in 4:41.88, and Michelle Kline, Circle Pines, Minn., was 25th in 4:45.65.

Niemann's time was nine seconds off her own world record of 4:10.90 and well off Yvonne van Gennip's 1988 Olympic record of 4:11.94. Van Gennip, a three-time gold medalist on Calgary's fast indoor oval, was a slow sixth yesterday in 4:28.10.

Albertville's spongy, crack-filled outdoor oval was the talk of the skaters before the race, but none would blame the temporary track or the mild 52-degree weather for the unusually slow times.

"It was too warm when I skated, it was a bit too hot and the ice was too soft," Hunyady said. "But you have to accept the conditions."

"It is part of the game," Niemann said. "We have skated here and we knew the ice situation. We knew what the times would be and what we had to do to win."

Warnicke and Hunyady were the first pair of skaters, while it was warm and the sun still glistened off the far straightaway of the 400-meter oval.

"We knew more or less how the ice would be after skating the World Cup here in December. The times were even slower," German coach Fuss Gaby said. "Given the conditions, it was improved and very appropriate for the Olympics."

So was Germany's 1-2 finish. There was speculation that unification would rip asunder the East German skating dynasty, but Niemann and Warnicke seem to have survived the transition to capitalism.

Niemann now hopes to duplicate van Gennip's three golds of 1988. She'll skate the 1,500 meters on Wednesday and the 5,000 meters on Feb. 17.

"I still have to be fast," Niemann said. "Maybe I can be fast again."

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