By Oliver Trust
It might have been one of the rare moments of the still young 2022 Games when the fundamental Olympic idea made its way through the clouds in Beijing.
Olympic traditionalists say Olympics are not about winning, it's about participating and sharing the joy of sports.
Spectators in the impressing Ice Ribbon arena saw 49-year-old Claudia Pechstein raising her arms while crossing the finish line after her 3000m race. She had a warm smile on her face despite knowing "I will end up as 20th and last."
The German skater is far from an unknown figure in speed skating. After five gold medals, two silver, and one bronze she is one of the sports role models and Germany's most successful winter athlete.
In Beijing, she might not have gained new glory in the form of a medal, but she wrote a new chapter of Olympic history as the first woman to compete at eight Olympic games. She equalized the record of male Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai.
Her prediction came true, she ended up last, over 20 seconds behind the winner, but she seemed to be the happiest competitor.
"I made the record official today, and it felt like a victory for me," she said. Experiencing this unique moment, all she could do was celebrate in the National Speed Skating Oval.
She quickly assumed not many might understand her emotions. "But I am happy and proud about what I achieved. That makes me smile."
30 years after she won her first medal at the 1992 Games in Albertville, she even didn't mind losing her Olympic 3000-record to Beijing winner Irene Schouten.
The German had set the best mark at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
After being praised as the most successful athlete when waiting at the starting line, "I couldn't compete properly. My head was filled with thousands of memories," she said.
Her Chinese competitor Adake Ahenaer said she is competing against a legend.
"That gets right to your heart, but it wasn't easy to face the race after all these compliments," Pechstein admitted.
The night before she carried the German flag at the opening ceremony in the famous bird's nest aside from bob icon Francesco Friedrich.
Despite her competition the next day, Pechstein cherished every moment and didn't mind taking the energy-taking event. "To carry the German flag meant more to me than all of my medals," she stated.
The Beijing Games might stand for the last chapter of her outstanding career but at the same time have special importance due to her doping ban that made her miss the 2010 Games in Vancouver. She not only developed a special fighting spirit, but it seemed her paramount desire to prove sportive achievements are possible at an advanced age.
Although she never failed a drug test and denied doping, her blood showed abnormalities when tested, and the Court of Arbitration upheld the ban by the International Skating Union for Sport in Switzerland.
She thus became the first athlete to be banned over screenings in her biological passport.
In Beijing, she seems to have found her peace.
On February 19th, she is going to make her last attempt in the mass-start-race at the 2022 Games. She then might not end up last again, only three days ahead of her 50th birthday.