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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Pechstein sets world record

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Claudia Pechstein watched teammate Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann become the first woman speedskater to break 7 minutes in the 5,000, then went out and did even better.
     Pechstein finished in 6:59.61 Friday to beat Niemann-Stirnemann by four-hundredths of a second and win the gold.
     Pechstein was the gold medalist in Lillehammer four years ago. It was the fifth time a world record has been set in speedskating at the Nagano Games. Niemann-Stirnemann finished in 6:59.65
     Lyudmila Prokasheva finished in 7:11.14 for the bronze, the second medal for Kazakstan at the Winter Olympics.
     Kirstin Holum of Waukesha, Wis., finished seventh in 7:14.20, an American record.
     The silver tied Niemann-Stirnemann with Karin Enke-Kania of East Germany with eight career speedskating medals. It also tied her with Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Dahlie for most winter medals in individual events. Three of Dahlie's 11 medals came in relays.
     So stunning was the performance by Niemann-Stirnemann that nearly every competitor still on the ice applauded as she circled the oval. She put her finger over her lips to quiet the crowd, aware that one heat was left -- and that Pechstein, who defeated her in 1994, was capable of doing it again.
     Pechstein caught up to Niemann-Stirnemann's pace nine laps into the race and slowly pulled away. A final push in the 12 1/2-lap race was just enough, and Pechstein collapsed on the ice after seeing yet another world-record time posted.
     What a way for speedskating in Nagano to close.
     The race was almost a repeat of the first speedskating event, when Bart Veldkamp set the world record in the 5,000 only to see it topped twice more in 45 minutes, finally by Gianni Romme in the final heat.
     The Olympic record, set by Yvonne van Gennip of the Netherlands in Calgary 10 years ago, was broken four times. It was the 10th time in as many races that an Olympic record was shattered at the M-Wave.
     Niemann-Stirnemann set the world record of 7:03.26 on the fast ice of Calgary in 1994, and she topped that by 3.61 seconds, spinning 12 straight sub-34-second laps.
     Pechstein faded in the final lap, but had built enough of a lead that it didn't matter. Niemann-Stirnemann got up from the bench, shrugged her shoulders and then tracked down her teammate for a hug.
     At 25, Pechstein now has five medals in three games.
     For Niemann-Stirnemann, the only speedskater to win the world all-around championship six times, these could be her last Olympics. At 31 she is four years past the peak of most speedskaters, although she hasn't ruled out a return to Salt Lake City.
     Niemann-Stirnemann was paired with Jennifer Rodriguez, the 21-year-old from Miami who had said before the race it was a treat to watch the German skate.
     Rodriguez didn't get much of a glimpse of Niemann-Stirnemann on Friday. She trailed her by 100 meters halfway into the race and wound up 10th in 7:16.78.
     Rodriguez was the first American woman to compete in four events at the Olympics since Beth Heiden in 1980. Her worst finish was 13th in the 1,000.
     Holum, daughter of 1972 gold medalist Dianne Holum, improved on her own American record but it was only good for seventh.
     Although just 17, Holum plans to retire to study art. Still, she hasn't ruled out a return to Salt Lake City, where she could be part of a U.S. team hoping to convert its experience in Nagano into medals.

     Speedskating Results
     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Final results Friday from the women's 5,000 meter speedskating medal event at the Winter Olympics.

     1, Claudia Pechstein, Germany, 6 minutes, 59.61 seconds.
     2, Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann, Germany, 6:59.65.
     3, Lyudmila Prokasheva, Kazakstan, 7:11.14.
     4, Barbara De Loor, Netherlands, 7:11.81.
     5, Tonny De Jong, Netherlands, 7:12.77.
     6, Carla Zijlstra, Netherlands, 7:12.89.
     7, Kirstin Holum, Waukesha, Wis., 7:14.20.
     8, Emese Hunyady, Austria, 7:15.23.
     9, Elena Belci, Italy, 7:15.58.
     10, Jennifer Rodriguez, Miami, 7:16.78.
     11, Mie Uehara, Japan, 7:21.72.
     12, Svetlana Vysokova, Russia, 7:22.18.
     13, Anette Tonsberg, Norway, 7:28.39.
     14, Heike Warnicke, Germany, 7:30.83.
     15, Nami Nemoto, Japan, 7:36.77.
     NR, Tatiana Trapeznikova, Russia, DNS.