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Shy Sablikova an unlikely Czech hero

Updated: 2014-02-21 07:20
By Reuters in Sochi, Russia ( China Daily)

Shy and frequently beset by nerves, speed skater Martina Sablikova does not want the adulation that comes with being the Czech Republic's most successful Olympian, only a decent rink to train on.

The 26-year-old was dubbed the "queen of skating" after winning the 3,000m and 5,000m at the Vancouver Games four years ago and improved her Olympic medal haul on Wednesday by retaining the longer distance title.

Three gold medals, one silver and a bronze surpass triple Olympic javelin champion Jan Zelezny's mark achieved for Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

One of only two Czech speed skaters in Sochi, she now hopes her calls for an oval to be built at home will be heard.

"After Vancouver, nothing happened. We don't have new ice rinks, it is very, very sad, and I am sad for the situation," Sablikova said in her broken English.

"Now maybe that might change, but we will have to wait."

Sablikova said she was only able to compete because of loyal personal sponsors, but feared for the next generation.

"We have good junior girls and maybe if they work very hard they will be good. But without an ice rink, it will be hard."

Looking uncomfortable wearing a blue hat and with her hands continually touching and covering her face, Sablikova seemed almost in pain discussing her victory.

Shy and retiring, she shuffled on her seat in nervous laughter as reporters offered praising questions. A lack of sleep a likely contributing factor for her restricted responses.

"I couldn't sleep until 2:00 a.m. last night. When I realized 5,000 people came to watch today, I got even more nervous," she said.

Nerves have been a common problem throughout her career yet she has fought through them to win five Olympic medals, numerous World Cup, World and European titles.

Her unsettled start to Wednesday's 5,000m race saw her juggle with her sunglasses on the opening laps as Dutch skater Ireen Wust opened up a 2 1/2 second gap in their penultimate heat.

But she found her rhythm and reeled in her rival with three laps of the 12 1/2 remaining to clock a time that was always beyond Claudia Pechstein and Yvonne Nauta in the final pairing and reverse the top two placings from the 3,000.

"She is really strong, and she is built for the long distances, she always does well and it is not easy for her," Wust told reporters of Sablikova.

"There is a lot of pressure on her to win, she is a great champion."

 Shy Sablikova an unlikely Czech hero

Winner Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic jumps on the podium during the flower ceremony for the women's 5,000m speed skating race at the Adler Arena at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games on Wednesday. Marko Djurica / Reuters

(China Daily 02/21/2014 page23)