Claudia Pechstein Is a 45-Year-Old Olympian. So Why Is It So Tough to Cheer?

A seven-time Olympian, Pechstein dates back to the days of the East German sports machine and has a doping violation that remains hard to ignore.

Comments: 29

  1. How can you identify a doper? The evidence is hanging around the neck.

  2. Oh sure, she inherited a 1 in 7 billion blood condition from her father that just so happens to make her the best skater in the world. Its obvious. Its not like East Germans were ever caught cheating, or speed skaters ever use performance enhancing drugs.

  3. Without attempting to judge whether or not Ms Pechstein has a genetic condition and whether or not she blood doped - it is entirely plausible that an elite athlete COULD have a genetic variations that assist them to reach the pinnacle of success in a Darwinian competition (pun intended).

    google Eero Mantyranta - who had a inherited variant receptor for erythropoetin and 50% extra red blood cells as a result. And the determination and training to convert that into 7 Olympic medals in cross country skiing. And used some performance enhancing drugs at some times in his career.

  4. Hereditary spherocytosis, which is what she supposedly has, is actually a relatively common condition (I'm a pathologist at a medium-sized hospital; I've seen two peripheral blood smears with this condition in the past month). It does not convey any athletic advantage, but it does increase the percentage of immature red blood cells in circulation.

    I have no idea whether she doped or not, but hereditary spherocytosis could explain the findings described in this short article. I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the possibility.

  5. Why is it so tough to cheer her? If readers accept this writer's under-informed, skeptical attitude toward Pechstein at face value, they too will find it tough. Reading further into the doping case it's clear that the picture is not at all as clear-cut as Macur attempts to paint it. Consider this fact concerning the 2009 ban: This was the first case of doping based on circumstantial evidence alone; no forbidden substances were ever found during her repeated tests. And how about this: On 15 March 2010, Gerhard Ehninger, head of the German Society for Hematology and Oncology, said that an evaluation of the case points to a light form of a blood anemia called spherocytosis – apparently inherited from her father. And further: Pechstein stood to lose her position with the German Federal Police should blood doping have been proved "beyond reasonable doubt". Disciplinary proceedings against her were halted in August 2010 because no such proof was available.

    None of this is proof-positive of her innocence, but nowhere does Macur mention these very germane facts, instead labelling her a "convicted doper" - when the case is emphatically more complex.

  6. It's actually not that complicated. If you look at endurance sports in general, people get caught with odd proportions of red blood cells -- either too many immature ones, or way too high of a level of haematocrit -- or even with a different blood type in them, all the time. Hardly ever is anyone caught with doping products or in the middle of transfusions, except for a few cases where there were markers on a new form of EPO. All the cases are like this, right down to the incredibly implausible excuses -- whether a phantom twin, an inherited condition that was amazingly just discovered despite years of testing, or something else. She's a doper. She shouldn't be competing. Especially since the advantages of doping never really go away, and probably go a long way to explaining why she's still competing at this level.

  7. There are complexities everywhere, however, they do not excuse anything.

    The Barry Bonds baseball case was also "emphatically more complex" than the fact that the physical diameter of his skull increased exponentially when he hit his 30's.

    How did a man that was admittedly a great hitter, but that averaged just 23 homeruns per year during his first five seasons (between the ages of 22 and 26... widely considered a baseball player's prime years) average 52 homeruns per year between the ages of 36 and 40, and hit 73 at the age of 37 (a stretch of time that invariably sees baseball players declining... not becoming "best ever")?

    Bonds was never proven guilty either. Complex, indeed.

  8. Brian, she's been diagnosed with a medical condition - hereditary spherocytosis. You do know what "hereditary" means? She inherited it. From her father. Or do you believe he's a "doper", too?
    It wasn't "amazingly discovered despite years of testing". The condition has been there all along.

  9. I can't get on board with major American newspapers going after athletes who have these stains on their record. We are, after all, the country that foisted Lance Armstrong on the world. Let's not project outrage or naiveté. We know better.

  10. We're also the country that caught, stripped, and banned Armstrong, so there's that.

  11. Lance instantly came to mind for me too. His defiant denial stained us all and sharply defined what a means to be a bully. I don't know enough about Claudia Pechstein to form an opinion. Lance's position on the shameful performance podium might stand the passage of time.

  12. The New York Times' reporting on Armstrong's misdeeds was very thorough, and indeed the very same NY Times reporter who wrote this story authored a book in 2014 called "Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong." Are you seriously suggesting that Armstrong's mere citizenship disqualifies any U.S. newspaper from covering this subject?

  13. The term 'doper' is rude and thoughtless. In the interim time she's obviously gone through the proper testing to compete and there is no hard evidence of her 'doping' as if that made her win anything. Is the author so desperate for ink that she has to bring the 'footnote' to our intention. Pechstein is an extraordinary athlete to compete at her age and should be celebrated for that, not torn down.

  14. If she really had an "inherited" condition, it would show up in EVERY test, and not just that one time. Correct?

  15. Not necessarily in every test, but probably more than once. And exactly that happened, rougly thirty times before, during and after her suspension (according to results shown on her website).

  16. Given how many cheaters or worse in the US have suffered no PR repercussion and are even employed as TV analysts or coaches--Ray Lewis, Chris Weber, Jalen Rose, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, A-Rod, Derrick Rose, on and on, let's be cautious in casting stones.

  17. To Juliet Macur, NYT
    From Nick De Morgan M.D.
    Concerning the interesting article on the German speed skater, Claudia Pechstein , the comment made by Andrew, though unnecessarily hyperbolic, intrigued me enough to seek out the actual incidence and prevalence of congenital spherocytosis.
    Remarkably there is a published report of a study of German blood donors (see Ann. Hemat. 1992; 64:88, Eber S.W. et al) which showed the prevalence of Congenial Spherocytosis to be 200-300 per million and likely greater because of undiagnosed mild cases.
    It is more than likely that all this is known to Ms since she has spent years seeking legal redress and must perforce have presented much medical evidence in her quest. The problem is that once the spectre of cheating has been raised, the situation morphs into ‘guilty until proved innocent’.
    A follow-up article would be enlightening.
    N De Morgan.

  18. I have no problem rooting for her. Hope she wins a medal, and in court in Germany.

  19. I still don't understand why it's tough to cheer for her.

  20. 46: she should be allowed to take anything she wants. The women has never been convicted of doping and until she is she should be given the respect she deserves.

  21. She's fighting awfully long and hard if she is indeed guilty. Go Claudia!

  22. 45 years old and competing very well. I'm cheering for her.

  23. I am happy to cheer her on - a 45-year old Olympic Skater. Whoa! There has been some doping suspicion about 10 years ago? Really, you hold this against this athlete now?

  24. I would have preferred to see a younger skater getting a chance to participate even if just for the experience rather than having a 45 year old taking up that slot.

  25. Pechstein did not take an opportunity away from anyone in her country. She EARNED the right to again represent her country. Tainted history or not, for an athlete to perform at world-class levels at age 45 is the mark of an Olympian.

  26. I for one am sick of having the olympics shoved down my throat. A corrupt private enterprize featuring a bunch of performance drug taking athletes. The fact that this corrupt private organization is subsidized by taxpayers is sickening. The vast amount of what is free advertising in major newspapers is disgusting.

  27. Agree with many if not all of the comments. If she believes herself to be innocent, then due process should allow her to defend herself. From the cheap seats, it's difficult for me to imagine, at her "advanced age", and under the scrutiny of a sport that has already accused and judged her guilty of PEDs, that she could still compete at a world class level. I suspect she's a freakishly great athlete, and while perhaps in the past she may have been guilty of using PEDs, that doesn't explain her world class performance now. Fight the fight.

  28. I carry no brief for the Olympics or any of its constituent sports, but it takes a lot of gall to accuse this woman of doping on the basis of some relatively weak circumstantial evidence during the same period when gymnastics and other sports officials claiming ignorance of a widespread child sex abuse scandal that seemed to be common knowledge for years within the sporting community seem to be given every benefit of the doubt.