Niemann, Gunda (1966—)

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Niemann, Gunda (1966—)

German speedskater. Name variations: Gunda Niemann Kleemann; Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann. Born on September 9, 1966, in Sondershausen, Germany; married.

Won the European championships (1989–92, 1994–96) and came in second (1997); won the World championships in the 5,000 meters by 5.30 seconds (1991) and by 6.55 seconds (1993); won Olympic gold medals in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters and a silver in the 1,500 meters in Albertville (1992); won an Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 meters and a bronze in the 1,500 meters at Lillehammer (1994); named "German Athlete of the Year" (1995); took first place at the World championships in the 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meters (1997).

The German speedskating champion Gunda Niemann began her spectacular career in 1983. From 1989 to 1992, she won consecutive European championships; two years later, she repeated another three-year reign (1994–96), then placed second in 1997. In 1992, in the Albertville Olympics, Niemann came into the 3,000-meter competition holding the world record time of 4:10.80, and edged out her training partner Heike Warnicke for a gold medal with a time of 4:19.90. Warnicke took a silver with 4:22.88; Emese Hunyady of Austria won the bronze. In the 5,000 meters, three Germans stood on the podium when 5′5″ Niemann took her second gold medal; Warnicke repeated for the silver, and Claudia Pechstein placed third.

By the 1994 Olympics, in Lillehammer, Niemann was the overwhelming favorite in the 3,000 and 5,000; she had not lost a 3,000-meter race in three years, and in 1993 she had broken Yvonne van Gennip 's 1988 world record in the 5,000 with a time of 7:13.29. But 450 meters into the race, Niemann fell when her left skate hit a lane marker. Russia's Svetlana Bazhanova won the gold medal; Hunyady came in second, and Pechstein was third. In the 5,000 meters, Pechstein beat out her teammate with a time of 7:14.37; Niemann placed second with 7:14.88. Hiromi Yamamoto of Japan came in third.

In the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Niemann was once again the favorite, having placed first at the World championships in the 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meters in 1997. She was the last to skate in the 1,500 meters and had to skate alone: the other skater had dropped out because of flu. Even so, Niemann won a silver medal with a time of 1:58.66. Marianne Timmer of the Netherlands took the gold with a new world record time of 1:57.58. In the 5,000 meters, Niemann became the first woman to skate under the seven-minute mark, with a time of 6:59.65. As Niemann circled the oval on her warm-down lap, with a stuffed animal under her arm, fans and fellow competitors applauded. Niemann shushed them, aware that there were two skaters to go. One of them was her teammate, Claudia Pechstein. A few minutes later, Pechstein became the second woman to skate under seven minutes with a time of 6:59.61, snatching the gold from Niemann's grasp by4/100ths of a second. But Niemann had her second silver medal of the Nagano games. She then went on to win the gold in the 3,000 meters; it was a German sweep. In doing so, Niemann equaled the Winter Games record of eight individual medals held by East German speedskater Karin Kania-Enke and Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Dahlie.

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Niemann, Gunda (1966—)

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