Pflug clinches victory from jaws of disaster
West Germany's Monika Pflug skirted with disaster in Sapporo, and her attempts to win a medal almost came undone before they had properly begun. In the final of the women’s 1,000m speed skating, she had twice jumped the start and knew that a third error would see her eliminated.
The problem was that the 1,000m was such a high-speed event that an overly cautious approach in the opening moments could easily prove the difference between winning a medal and going home empty-handed.
Pflug was only 17 years old, with precious little big tournament experience, so this was uncharted territory for her. She made the decision to play slightly safe when the gun went off for the third time, making sure she made a clean start, even if it did cost her some time.
However, she knew it would be vital to set a good benchmark. She was skating in the third pair and the two favourites – Anne Henning and Lyudmila Titova – were set to compete shortly after, so the German put everything into her skate.
Her split time at 200m was modest - the inevitable result of her cautious start - but she then started to build up momentum and went through the 600m split at ahead of the pace. She crossed the line in 1 minute 31.40 seconds; it was a good time, but hardly unbeatable.
As expected, Henning and Titova pushed each other hard. Both were ahead of Pflug’s time after 200m while, at the 600m point, Titova was still a third of a second faster. However, Pflug's closing 400m had been hugely impressive, and neither of the favourites could produce anything to match it.
Indeed, the closest challenge came from 33-year-old Dutch skater Atje Keulen-Deelstra, who took silver some 0.21 seconds behind the winning time. Pflug’s early caution had paved the way to a gold medal.
She would carry on competing at the Winter Games until 1988, by which point she was 33 years old, but never made it back onto an Olympic podium.