It was announced this week that Maki Tabata has made the Japanese speed skating team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. If you haven’t heard of you, you should have. Her Olympic medal haul contains but a single silver medal, that won in the team pursuit at Vancouver in 2010, but she holds several other Olympic bests, one coming with her being named to the 2014 Olympic roster.
In 2010 Tabata’s silver medal came 16 years after she first appeared in the Olympics, in 1994 at Lillehammer. She missed the 1998 Winter Olympics but competed again in 2002 and 2006. She competed in the 1,500 in 1994, four individual events in 2002, and five events in 2006, including the team pursuit. Her best individual finish was sixth in the 2002 3,000 metres, with a podium near-miss of fourth in the 2006 team pursuit. But Tabata’s 2010 medal set a best for women – her 16-year gap from début to first Winter Olympic medal is the longest unrequited span of Winter Olympic participation for women without a medal.
Among men, the record is 20 years by Belgium bobsledder Max Houben, who first competed in 1928 and then won his first medal in 1948. Houben can actually claim 28 years – he actually competed at the Olympics in 1920 in athletics (track & field). Houben is trailed among male Winter Olympians by ice hockey players Jari Kurri (FIN), who first competed in 1980 and won his first medal in 1998, and American Chris Chelios, who went from 1984-2002 before winning an Olympic medal. The summer record for men is 36 years by Canadian equestrian Ian Millar, who first competed in 1972 and won his first medal in 2008. For women, Danish equestrian Anne Jensen-van Olst went 20 years at the Summer Games before winning a medal – 1988-2008.
But Tabata will soon have another record, though she may share it with others. When she competes in Sochi it will make her span of Olympic participation 20 years (1994-2014) – the longest ever for women at the Winter Olympics. The current best is 18 years, held by seven female Winter Olympians. Tabata is now at 16 years, tying her for 8th-best with 13 others. However, Tabata and 11 others competed at Vancouver, so she may end up sharing this record , as final Olympic rosters are not yet complete. The men’s record, incidentally, is 26 years at the Winter Olympics – held by Costa Rican Arturo Kinch, a skiier who competed from 1980-2006, and the magnificently named Mexican alpine skiier Hubertus von Fürstenberg-von Hohenlohe, who competed from 1984-2010.