Whenever Victoria Stirnemann (20) comes to training, she is reminded of how successful her mother was. Because the ice skating stadium in Erfurt is called “Gunda-Niemann-Stirnemann-Halle”. After all, the woman with the nickname “Gold-Gunda” was the most successful speed skater in the world with three Olympic victories and 19 world championship titles and is probably the best-known resident of the state capital of Thuringia.
Daughter Victoria, who is Germany’s greatest talent on clap skates simply because of her inherited genes, says: “It was always normal for me that the hall bears my mother’s name. That’s something to be proud of. It is also an incentive to achieve something similar.” This weekend she wants to take the next step in this direction. Then there is the World Cup qualification in Inzell. Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann remains calm: “I’m not nervous, but of course I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
At first, the now 56-year-old wasn’t really thrilled that her daughter wanted to go on the ice – and that’s an understatement. “If my parents had had their way,” says Victoria, “I would never have put on the skates. They used to send me to other sports. I then did judo with my best friend.”
But then came the moment that changed everything. Victoria remembers: “When I was five years old, my dad and I picked mom up from the ice rink.” The three-time Olympic champion now works as a junior coach. “I saw mom and all the kids on the ice and asked: ‘Why can’t I do that?'” The parents couldn’t say no anymore.
In addition, later in elementary school I went to the ice rink for physical education. It was fun on the ice that drove her – not her mother’s gold medals. Their great successes were never the focus at home anyway. “Her medals,” says Victoria, “were somewhere in our basement and were never an issue.”
Later she went to the sports high school in Erfurt. In fifth grade, her parents bought her her first clamshell skates, specially made in Holland. “She suddenly became really ambitious,” remembers Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann. After school, Gaby Fuss (65) finally became Victoria’s first trainer. Foot had already led Niemann-Stirnemann to their first two Olympic victories in 1992. But her name and her famous mother did not only bring benefits to Victoria. On the contrary: “I actually always had a harder path, I had to fight my way through because everyone knew Mama’s success,” she says. The highlight then in 2016: “I wasn’t included in the squad. I was told I wasn’t good enough.”
But she wasn’t discouraged – the student at the time saw it as an incentive. “I grew from that. And if I want to reach the top internationally, nobody will make it easy for me. That made me strong,” she says. That fighter heart came through that had already identified her mother.
Because Niemann-Stirnemann was not a talent of the century. However, she had an iron will, hardly anyone could torture themselves on and off the ice like “Miracle Gunda”. In the Dutch speed skating mecca of Heerenveen, local fans held up a sign in admiration at competitions that read “No one can do what Niemann can”. She was sure of the respect and enormous recognition – even though she almost always finished ahead of the Dutch women and snatched a number of titles from them. But their fighting qualities also convinced the Dutch.
When the association didn’t want Viktoria, the mother’s once biggest competitor, of all people, helped. “I was taken in by Claudia Pechstein and her team,” says Victoria. With five Olympic victories, Pechstein (50) is Germany’s most successful speed skater at the Winter Games. “I’ve been training with their team all summer. That was really nice, I took a lot with me. I was always allowed to go to the courses. I also had the incentive to show the association: ‘You made a mistake there.’ I succeeded.”
Finally, in 2017, her mother became her trainer for three years. Quite simply because Niemann-Stirnemann worked as a youth trainer. “I enjoy working with children and it was nice to have my daughter there,” she says. And the successes came. In 2020 they both traveled to the Winter Youth Olympic Games together, where Victoria finished fourth in the 1500 meters.
Corona brought both apart again. Victoria explains: “During that time everyone in my training group stopped and I was suddenly on my own. My mum took over another youth group.” And she herself had to look for a new coach. However, she was able to take her time with this, because the next setback came in January 2021: while stretching, she tore a tendon at the muscle attachment in her thigh. The recovery took longer than expected with a rehabilitation program of over six months. This also burst the dream of the 2022 Olympics. “I missed too much training,” says Victoria.
But she kept fighting. On the ice for her comeback and at the federal police sports school in Bad Endorf in Bavaria for her degree as a police officer. At the end of 2021 she surprised herself by qualifying for the World Cup and making her debut on the international stage. But after starts in Norway and Poland it was over, the doctors took her out again. But the motivation got an additional boost in the spring: The American and Olympic champion Peter Mueller (66) became national coach in her hometown of Erfurt. He has already formed stars Bonnie Blair (1992) and Dan Jansen (1994) into Olympic champions.
“I met him back in 2016. Peter was coaching Claudia’s team when I was there,” says Victoria and reveals: “He’s a coach who Mama always says she would have liked to train with. I feel like I’m in good hands there, I have complete trust in him.” The fact that she’s the only girl in the training group there should be an advantage. Niemann-Stirnemann used to only train with men. They set the pace for her, women couldn’t keep up anyway.
Even if Victoria should now continue to attack internationally, the pressure of her name doesn’t bother her: “My mum’s success was always the motivation for me. That didn’t put me under pressure, but rather motivated me.” Her mother remains the most important point of contact for her. “I just know I have someone at home who 100 percent empathizes with what I’m going through. And whenever things get a bit difficult, I have someone to talk to about it. My mom understands me like no other. That’s definitely an advantage. We’ve always kept sport and home separate and we’ll continue to do so.”
And she’s ready to take off. The 20-year-old has completed her training to become a police officer and can now fully concentrate on her sport. “I’m fit again, haven’t had any failures this summer, I’m in a very positive mood,” says Victoria Stirnemann, “also with regard to the 2026 Olympics.”