Czech smooth as ice

Steady Sablikova legs out the win

Martina Sablikova jumped for joy after winning her country’s first speedskating medal. Martina Sablikova jumped for joy after winning her country’s first speedskating medal. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
By Paul Newberry
Associated Press / February 15, 2010

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RICHMOND, British Columbia - Using all of the ice and then some, Martina Sablikova gave the Czech Republic its first Olympic medal in speedskating with a gold in the women’s 3,000 meters yesterday.

The 22-year-old Sablikova maintained an incredibly steady pace, keeping her lap times under 32 seconds until her final trip around the Richmond Olympic Oval. Even then, she went over by a mere hundredth of a second, powering across the line with long, lean legs that looked just as fresh at the finish as they did at the start.

Her winning time was 4 minutes 2.53 seconds, more than 2 seconds ahead of silver medalist Stephanie Beckert of Germany (4:04.62). Canada settled for a bronze from Kristina Groves (4:04.84), who clipped Germany’s Daniela Anschutz Thoms by three-hundredths for the final spot on the podium.

Sablikova went in the fourth pairing from the end, just as Sven Kramer did Saturday in the first speedskating event, the men’s 5,000. Each of them put up the time to beat, then watched nervously as six more skaters tried - and failed - to take them down.

“I was so nervous because there were three more pairs going,’’ said Sablikova, who sat in the middle of the oval, holding her hands to her mouth as she watched the remaining pairs. “I was scared.’’

When the next-to-last group was done and she knew her time was good enough for at least a bronze, she jumped up to hug her coach.

“I was already happy when I got one medal,’’ Sablikova said.

Defending Olympic champion Ireen Wust of the Netherlands skated in the final pairing with Anschutz Thoms and was more than a second under Sablikova’s pace through with three laps to go. But Wust couldn’t hold on, fading badly over the final 1,200 to finish seventh.

While Sablikova celebrated, skipping across the concrete infield with a Czech flag, Wust collapsed on a bench along the backstretch, totally spent.

Sablikova dominated the event with her trademark turns, wide sweeps through the corners in which she carries her speed at least two strides longer than most skaters, still turning even after she gets on the straightaways.

She usually drifts into the opposite lane, a perfectly legal maneuver even under tougher International Skating Union rules as long as she doesn’t interfere with another skater.

No worries there. She was all alone at the front.

Nothing could slow Sablikova on this day - not even a problem with the ice that caused a brief delay.

The coaches from each nation were called together to discuss a rough spot near the finish line, apparently caused when the Zamboni stalled while resurfacing the ice midway through the competition. After doing repairs and making sure it wouldn’t cause a problem, the competition resumed.

Sablikova will be one of the favorites in the 5,000, the longest event on the women’s program.

“I felt very good going in,’’ she said. “I have one medal now, and everything is possible.’’

For the Americans, it was another 3,000 shutout. They haven’t won a medal in this event since Beth Heiden at the 1980 Lake Placid Games, and didn’t come close again.

Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. was ninth, Jilleanne Rookard 12th, and three-time Olympian Catherine Raney-Norman 17th.