- 25 Sep 1988
- Seoul 1988
Luding-Rothenberger cycles to unique Olympic double
Track cycling and speed skating both require explosive speed and acceleration, phenomenal leg power and potentially lung-bursting endurance. It was this happy coincidence that sprang East Germany’s Christa Luding-Rothenberger to prominence at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
She did not return to her native Germany with a clutch of gold medals and world records to her name, she did not even win the event for which she was entered.
However she did carve herself a unique place in the Olympic annals by becoming the first, and likely to be only, person to medal at a Winter and Summer Games in the same year.
In the early 1980s she was a hugely accomplished speedskater, winning the 500m gold in the Sarajevo Games in 1984, and the first of two world titles the following year.
Christa was encouraged by her coach and future husband Ernst Ludwig to take up cycling as a means of maintaining fitness during the close season, and she became so proficient that she began entering races.
Her chosen discipline was the sprint, the game of cat and mouse where riders cycle slowly in a tactical first half before the pace cranks up to breakneck speed for the final lap.
She went to the world championships in Colorado Springs in 1986 with much less experience than many of her rivals but she returned with the title.
At the Winter Games in Calgary at the start of 1988 she missed out on a repeat gold in the 500m sprint by a whisker before making amends by winning the 1,000m title a few days later.
A matter of months later she was headed to the Summer Games in Seoul with more medals in her sights.
She beat Frenchwoman Isabelle Gautheron in the semi-final of the 1,000m sprint and won the first race in the best of three final against Russian Erika Salumae.
But the Russian proved too strong and claimed the final two races to deny Luding-Rothenburger an even more formidable achievement.
Canadian Clara Hughes has since won Olympic medals in the same sports, yet the talented German’s record is likely to stay intact forever
The decision to make the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France the last to be held in the same year as the Summer Games ensures her place in the history books for good.