By Paul Osborne

A German court ruled to have the case of Claudia Pechstein heard as she seeks damages against the ISU ©Getty ImagesA German court has today ruled that the case of five-time Olympic speed skating champion Claudia Pechstein can be heard as she seeks damages against the International Skating Union (ISU).

Pechstein has been in a long-term struggle with the ISU after being issued with a two year doping ban in 2009 over elevated blood levels in her biological passport.

Pleading innocence and putting the irregular levels of reticulocytes in her blood down to an inherited condition from her father, Pechstein appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

CAS backed the original ruling by the ISU, however, finding no evidence for an inherited condition in the expert testimony provided by Pechstein.

This was the first case of doping based on circumstantial evidence alone; no forbidden substances were ever found during her repeated tests.

This ruling - and another from a district court in February 2014 which had dismissed the case - was overturned by the Higher Regional Court in Munich court today, however.

It is the first time a German civil court has allowed a case to be heard after the world's top sports court, CAS, has ruled against it, setting a precedent for potential similar cases.

Claudia Pechstein won gold in the 3,000m and 5,000m and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games ©Getty ImagesClaudia Pechstein won gold in the 3,000m and 5,000m and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games ©Getty Images

"They [ISU] took everything from me but I keep on fighting," Pechstein told reporters.

"I now have the chance in a proper court, a German court.

"There I am confident because the ISU must now prove that I doped.

"There will never be a positive test from me and that is why I am confident."

Pechstein is seeking €4.4 million (£3.37 million/$5.12 million) in damages over lost revenue for the period of her suspension.

"Five and a half years ago, very few people thought that I would go down this path," Pechstein told to Germany's Sky Sports News in front of the court.

"My image really took a hit due to this ruling and there have been ups and downs for me as a person.

"But I'm happy to stand here now."

The Munich court said in its ruling statement that the "arbitration agreement in dispute is invalid because it violates mandatory antitrust law".

It added that it shall, therefore, "not accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport".

Claudia Pechstein has won three bronze medals at World Championships since returning from her two year doping ban in 2011 ©Getty ImagesClaudia Pechstein has won three bronze medals at World Championships since returning from her two year doping ban in 2011 ©Getty Images

The ISU now has four weeks to lodge an appeal on the ruling before Germany's Federal Court of Justice (BGH) makes a decision.

If the BGH follows today's decision, the case would be returned to the court in Munich, where a decision on damages will be made.

Following the news, the German Olympic Sports Confederation has said: "The DOSB has taken up the discussion of the case of Claudia Pechstein and in turn asked five recognised experts to assess the medical issues discussed in this case.

"In addition, we have turned to the CAS and various suggestions for modifying the Rules of Procedure.

"The CAS has shown quite open to suggestions and will discuss its bodies.

"We were pleased to see that much in the planned anti-doping law, the arbitration will be strengthened in sports.

"Only on Arbitration is a global equality for all athletes made."

Since returning from her ban in 2011, Pechstein has won bronze medals at three World Championships and narrowly missed out on the podium at Sochi 2014, finishing fourth in the 3,000 metres and fifth in the 5,000m.

The case also comes two months after a proposed law was presented at the Bundestag in Berlin putting forward the criminalisation of doping.

This proposal has been criticised by various officials including WADA President Sir Craig Reedie, but will be put to Parliament in the Spring. 

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]#

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