Monday, December 14, 2009

Paul and Pechstein: peas in a pod?

It's not something Ingrid Paul wanted to deal with on her birthday. And it's not something that speedskating needed on the road to Vancouver 2010.

The Speedskating Canada coach, who was born in Gouda, Netherlands, turned 45 on Monday amid allegations that she conspired to bribe a Polish speedster at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics.

The Royal Dutch Skating Union and Netherlands Olympic Committee are investigating Katarzyna Wojcicka's claim that she was offered 50,000 Euros not to race the 5,000 km event. The allegation was broadcast Dec. 13 on NOS TV, the Dutch public broadcasting company. It includes archival footage from Torino 2006. Read the NOS story in English and watch the investigative report here.

Had Wojcicka quit, Gretha Smit of the Netherlands would have stepped in because she was the first alternate. Paul was Smit's coach.

"Where would I have got the money from?" Paul said, according to "And as far as I am aware, the sponsor did not offer any money either."

Canada's Clara Hughes was first, Wojcicka was last among the 16-skater field.

The allegations follow the last pre-Olympic world cup meet in Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Games. Among the competitors was German Claudia Pechstein, who set world records in the 3,000 and 5,000 metre races at the last North American Olympics.

She finished a distant 13th in Friday's women's 3,000 m, just behind Canada's Cindy Klassen who is struggling to return from double knee surgery. It was five-time Olympic gold medalist Pechstein's first meet of the season after a positive doping test in February meant a two-year ban from the sport. It was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the Swiss federal court gave her the green light to compete in Salt Lake while her final appeal is pending.

Coincidentally, Pechstein is a police officer and the Vancouver 2010 anti-doping laboratory is located inside the Richmond Olympic Oval speedskating arena.

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