By Simon Jennings
(Reuters) – Czech speed skater Martina Sablikova has had injections and is still battling pain in her back which she hopes will not harm her chances at next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The long-distance specialist has a problem with a disc in her back, which makes it difficult for her to completely stretch her leg and while she had painkilling injections, decided to miss the European Speed Skating Championships earlier this month to focus on the Games.
“I want my back to get fully in order and I can tell myself in Korea that I’ve done all I could,” she told Czech media when she announced her decision to skip the European Championships in Kolomna at the start of January.
“After the last World Cup (in Salt Lake City), I consulted with doctors. I had a shot and we found out it had helped but I would need the shot to go closer to the nerve. Then it should be completely fine.
“Fortunately it has improved already.”
She has since improved enough to return to action at the ISU World Cup event in Erfurt at the weekend where she raced in the 1,500m and 3,000m, but said beforehand she was still suffering pain.
“I didn’t know something could hurt like this,” she said. “The pain is sometimes really unbelievable.
“One moment it is good, one moment not so much. I was just in Italy for three weeks where I trained for everything I should.
“Sometimes I went through the pain, but sometimes I almost didn’t feel the pain. It depends.
“The worst is entering the turns… The pain is sometimes really, really unbelievable. It’s a pain that I have to get through.
“When I go at a sharp tempo, then it is really hard to fight it, but so far it can be done.”
The 30-year-old from Nove Mesto Na Morave has won three Olympic gold medals, has held the world record in the 5,000m since 2011 and her rivalry with Dutchwoman Ireen Wust is one of the sport’s most intense.
Wust beat Sablikova to gold in the 3,000 at the Sochi Games four years ago, but the Czech came back strong to win the 5,000 and defend the crown she had claimed for the first time at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
In Korea, Sablikova will focus on the 1,000m and 3,000m, although her coach Petr Novak has not ruled her out of taking part in the 1,500m as well.
“Martina had something blocked in her back, which has loosened, but some small problems have remained. As if you catch a cramp and it holds on you for a month and does not want to relax completely,” he said.
“We are working on Martina’s back to be at least 99 percent fine at the Games. I stay calm. Even in her current condition she would fight for medals in Kora.”
Novak added that Nikola Zdrahalova, in the mass start, and Karolina Erbanova in the women’s 500m were both also medal contenders.
“I believe Martina and Karolina will be fighting for medal positions,” Novak said.
“Martina on both her distances and Karolina mainly in 500m. In the group race Nikola may be in the game too.”
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)