Tuesday 16 December 2014


It took me some time to learn the tricks of cycling only to realise I could just ride and not perform tricks. Skating, as far as it goes I have managed once to wear the skating shoes and tried them on the roads, before my friend asked me to give it back. My time was over and 18 years hence, I still haven’t managed to buy myself a pair of skates. And now I do not have my cycle either. That’s another story.

Anyways, the above mentioned thoughts came when I got reminded of Christa Rothenburger Luding who holds a strange distinction in the world of sports. Six months younger than my mother, she holds the distinction of winning medals in both summer and Winter Olympics. I first read about her when I was researching few facts for my Sports Quiz few years ago and happen to discover the fact - that she remains as the first and the last athlete to have won both winter and Summer Olympics medals in the same year.

Born in the year 1959 in the city of Weisswasser (previously East Germany before unification in 1990) she competed in five Olympics editions in two different events. Her first participation was at the 1980 games at Lake Placid where she took part in the 500m and 1000m speed skating events. Although she didn’t manage to win any medals in the first edition, she did strike gold in her second attempt at Sarajevo Games (city previously in Yugoslavia and now in Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the 500m speed-skating event. Continuing her good form she went on to be the world champion in speed skating at the 1985 World Sprint Championship.

It was during the early 1980’s while she was being coached by Ernst Luding (whom she married 8 years later at the culmination of the 1988 Winter Olympics) she was convinced to take up track cycling during the off-season as speed skating and track cycling, both disciplines require speed and strength in addition to balance. Both events strike a resemblance - they take place in oval shaped tracks and hence the physical requisites required in both sports bear some similarities.

She received considerable amount of support from East Germany sports federation after the initial reluctance to allow her to compete in the cycling events. Having secured the permission from the President of the national Sports Federation, Christa took part in cycling championships and in the year 1986 she won a gold medal at the World Cycling Championships and thus became only the second woman after Sheila Young to become a world champion in both speed skating and track cycling.

The year 1988 turned out to be the best year of her life. She won the silver medal in the 500m speed skating and a gold medal in the 1000m at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Few months later, she was at the other end of the globe to the Far East in Seoul to participate in sprint cycling. Having earlier won medals at the Winter Olympics, she managed to win a silver medal in the 1000m track cycling event and thereby joining an elite league of athletes winning both summer and Winter Olympics medal.

Gillis Grafstrom from Sweden, Eddie Eagen from United States, Jacob Tullin Thams from Norway and very recently the Canadian Clara Hughes have achieved a similar feat - but none managed to achieve in the same year.

Before the German reunification in 1990, Christa competed for East Germany and afterwards for Germany. She remained a dominating figure for more than 10 years and was considered to be one of the world's best sprinters in speed skating. At the World Sprint Championships in speed skating, she became World Champion twice (in 1985 and 1988), won silver medal twice (in 1986 and 1989), and won 4 bronze medals (in 1979, 1983, 1987, and 1992). She has also won the 500 m World Cup 3 times (in 1986, 1988, and 1989) and the 1,000 m World Cup once (in 1988).

After winning a bronze medal at the 1992 World Sprint Championships (in which she was unable to win any of the 4 distances), Christa Rothenburger Luding ended her speed skating career.

At the turn of early 1990’s, International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided - that winter and Summer Olympics would bifurcate  and there would be a gap of two years between the events. Starting with Lillehammer in 1994, Winter Olympics was held and is being held alternatively with the main Summer Olympics event.

This decision ensured Christa Rothenburger Luding to remain the only athlete to have won medals in both editions of Olympics held in the same year. A feat, which is unlikely to be emulated. 

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