KEARNS — The most successful woman in speed skating was the talk of the Essent ISU World Cup on Friday, but it wasn't for her performance on the ice.
Instead, Germany's Claudia Pechstein, owner of nine Olympic medals — including five golds — was the topic of conversations among athletes and fans because she was allowed to compete in the ISU's final World Cup, despite being banned for two years by the ISU for blood doping.
Pechstein insisted she was innocent and appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The ban was upheld last month, yet the 37-year-old was allowed to compete pending her appeal to the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, thanks to a Swiss Court ruling.
Her time is provisional, and it was ultimately not good enough to earn her a trip to what would have been her fifth Olympic Games. She needed to place in the top eight of the 3,000-meter race but only managed 13th place. Regardless, her presence as a competitor was baffling to some of her fellow athletes.
"It was shocking," said Jilleanne Rookard, of the U.S. Team. "I was a little surprised to say the least. It's illegal what she's done. Let's play fair."
Some wondered if the fact that she is so successful and well-known played into the decision to allow her to skate this weekend.
"She's a pretty big name, a heavy hitter," Rookard said. "I was shocked, upset that people can get away with that type of thing."
U.S. skater Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. said that while it seemed unfair, there was still a lot that the general public may not know about the case.
"We don't know the details," said Swider-Peltz Jr. "She's the most decorated female skater out there. I don't know what will happen. ... I would not want to be here now."
She agreed it was disconcerting to learn that Pechstein would compete.
"In a way it's kind of unfair," she said. "It's kind of unfair to all the other girls out there fighting for their position in the Olympics. When the information came down, it spread like wildfire."
She said everyone was watching when Pechstein took to the ice.
"Everyone was interested," she said. "It's definitely a scandal in the world of skating, and we don't have that very often."