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26 Feb 1988

Speed Skating - Multi-talented Rothenburger launches miracle year

Few athletes have enjoyed the sort of year that East German speed skater Christa Rothenburger experienced in 1988. What she achieved that year accomplishments remains unique to this day – and will probably never be matched. Rothenburger was already considered a sporting star by the time she arrived in Calgary.

She had won 500m gold in Sarajevo and had subsequently picked up gold, silver and bronze medals at the world championships. But she was also developing great prowess as a cyclist, enthusiastically adopting the sport during the off-season. Originally it had been a hobby and a way of keeping fit for the rink, but it became more and more obvious that she also had great talent as a cyclist, and Rothenburger wanted to test herself harder. In 1986, she entered the World Cycling Championships and remarkably won a gold in the track sprint.

The question now was whether she could balance the two sports successfully, not least because the 1988 Olympic calendar included both Winter and Summer Games. Other athletes had won Olympic medals in both Summer and Olympic Games, but none had ever done so within the same year. She donned her skates for the first part of her mission and duly took a silver over 500m (missing out on the gold by the tiny margin of 0.02 seconds). However, it was in the 1,000m where she shone, darting her way to a gold medal and a new world record with victory by 0.05 seconds over her East German team-mate Karin Kania.

Seven months later, she traded skates for wheels and took to the velodrome in Seoul for the women’s track sprint. Just as in Calgary, the challenge involved 1,000m of high-tempo racing with second-by-second tactical analysis, and the need to push her body to the limit.

And once more she came away with a medal – silver this time, but more than enough to earn her a remarkable place in history.

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