All eyes are on Anni Friesinger and not just because of her habit of posing for risque photos. The German speed skater rides an unmatched winning streak into Salt Lake City, having lost only one middle- and long-distance race all season. At the Games, she plans to skate in four events the 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 m and is a heavy favorite at 1,500 and 3,000. Friesinger spoke with TIMEís Jeff Chu from her pre-Olympic training base in Calgary, Canada. Excerpts:
TIME: Youíve been on the ice ever since you were little.
Friesinger: My parents skated too. My mother was skating for Poland, my father for Germany. All the talent comes from them. When you begin very early, it's just because of fun. My friends did skiing and mountain biking, but they also skated. So it was fun. There was absolutely no pressure from my parents. Never ever. It wasn't stressful. It was just gliding around the track. I loved the speed and watching the people skating around corners.
TIME: Thereís more pressure now. Has your success created expectations that are too high?
Friesinger: It has been an unbelievable season. Unbelievable. But there's lots of pressure. Now I try not to go onto the Internet too much or to read newspapers or magazines or even watch TV. There's too much coming up now. Everybody is expecting the gold medal. But I have my own goals. My coach and I both have the same goals. But from the outside, people wish things for me. Of course I wish that, too, but it's still big pressure.
TIME: What are your hopes and expectations for Salt Lake City?
Friesinger: To stay healthy and have nice races. Then I'll see. I would never ever say that I am going for this-or-that medal or this-or-that title. You can't do that. It's too much pressure. It's important for me to stay healthy. Then the rest will come. Going into the race, I will have to see how I feel my body feeling, my mental feeling, how the training before is going. With this, I will see how the race goes. Sometimes, even when I give 100%, I may only get fifth place and that's okay. In Nagano, I got a bronze medal. So now of course it would be nice to get a silver or a gold medal. But I know that with one step that's not on the right side, then it's out of the top 10 or top 20.
TIME: What's your magic ingredient?
Friesinger: What for me is very important is that I have a nice training group. We are all friends. My brother Jan is in the group. There's also [German teammate] Marion Wohlrab, Cedric Kuentz he's a French skater and Yuri Kokhanetz from Russia. This is my training group. It's great. Our coach brought five people to the Olympics. Not everybody can say this. We've all had a very good season and everybody is happy. There's a very good mood on our team, and that's important.
TIME: Where do you think your biggest competition will come from?
Friesinger: For sure, Jen Rodriguez from the United States in the 1000m and the 1500m. In the 1000m, there's also the other German ladies. In the 1500m, there's Cindy Klassen from Canada and Maki Tabata from Japan. In the 3K, Claudia Pechstein, Maki Tabata and one or two of the Dutch girls. With the Dutch girls, you never know. And in the 5km, for sure Claudia and the Dutch girls.
TIME: What has made the difference for you this season and last?
Friesinger: Last year was a great season for me. I was twice world champion, in the all-around and the 1500m. I wanted to have a good season again, but that it's going this great, well, it wasn't expected . . . Iím healthy and I was healthy in the summer. In the past I had problems with my back and my knee. So I've been training harder. I have also had more discipline and not going out too much.
TIME: What's your biggest weakness now?
Friesinger: My health sometimes. And sometimes I want too much. I want it so bad, and then I skate too hectic. Then I don't have so much control over my technique when I'm on the ice.
TIME: Speaking of control . . . You have quite an image in the German press and youíve gotten a lot of attention for some of the things youíve said. For instance, one of your famous quotes is about skating being "pure erotic."
Friesinger: Oh my God! I didn't say it. They asked me yes or no, so I said, yes! Our speedsuits are very light and you can't hide anything. So we have big muscles, but they're not that big. And it's muscle, not fat. It does look good. So when they asked me, I said yes. I know the quote. I didn't say it. When it came out, well, I thought, "That's done. That's over." Sometimes I cannot control it.