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The most successful athlete at Sochi 2014 and the proud owner of eight Olympic medals in total – four of them gold – Dutch long-track speed skater Ireen Wüst is aiming to expand her collection at PyeongChang 2018.
The Netherlands has long been the dominant force in speed skating, a sport that has produced 35 of its 37 gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games (and 105 out of its total of 110 medals). Yet even in a country that has bred champions for decades, Ireen Wüst has propelled herself into a league of her own.
Wüst first made her mark on the international stage at the Lingotto Oval at Turin 2006, when, at just 19, she became the Netherlands’ youngest ever Olympic champion in her sport, claiming gold in the women’s 3,000m. After going on to take bronze in the 1,500m, she was voted Dutch Sportswoman of the Year.
“The win in Turin in 2006 was just incredible,” she later said. “I hadn’t won anything before that, and there I was in my first Olympic race, winning a gold medal. Even when I watch the race today, I still can’t believe that I did it. It was an amazing feeling.”
The young star followed up her Olympic triumph by winning the world allround speed skating title on home ice in Heerenveen (NED) in 2007, before adding a silver in the same competition in Berlin (GER) the following year.
Wüst also took golds in the 1,000m and 1,500m at the 2007 World Single Distances Championships in Salt Lake City (USA), in the team pursuit at the 2008 Worlds in Nagano (JPN) and in the European Allround Speed Skating Championships in Kolomna (RUS) that same year.
The Dutch speedster was on top again at Vancouver 2010, where she beat home favourite Kristina Groves by 0.25 seconds in the 1,500m at the Richmond Oval to pick up the second Olympic gold of her brilliant career.
In the Olympic cycle leading up to Sochi 2014, Wüst continued to add to her collection of world titles, regaining the world allround crown in 2011 and going on to defend it successfully the following two years running. She also claimed the 1,500m and 3,000m titles in 2011 and then again in Sochi’s Adler Arena in 2013, where she was also a member of the Dutch trio that won the world team pursuit title.
The Dutch were utterly dominant when Sochi 2014 came around, claiming 23 medals in all, eight of them gold.
The irrepressible Wüst made a huge contribution to that overall total, regaining the 3,000m title before landing silvers in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m. She then teamed up with Marrit Leenstra and Jorien ter Mors to smash the Olympic team pursuit record, winning gold by a margin of more than seven seconds over runners-up Poland.
Wüst’s five-medal haul made her the most decorated athlete at Sochi 2014.
“I would like to compete at PyeongChang 2018,” Wüst later said, weighing up her chances of yet more Olympic success. “That’s my goal. I want to compete there and then retire, but you don’t know for sure. Hopefully I can stay healthy and not have any injuries. Then, we’ll see what happens.”
The next three years saw Wüst and three-time Olympic champion Martina Sábliková of the Czech Republic – the skater who beat her to gold in the 5,000m at Sochi 2014 – wage an intense rivalry. Sábliková got the better of the Dutch skater at the World Allround Speed Skating Championships in Calgary in 2015 and again in Berlin a year later.
Wüst was back on top in Hamar (NOR) in March 2017, however, winning her sixth world crown in the event, and her first since 2014, edging her Czech adversary by a mere 0.64 seconds over the four distances.
A mainstay of the Dutch pursuit team at the World Single Distances Championships, Wüst helped secure gold in the event in 2016 and 2017, the second of those competitions being held at the Gangneung Oval, where she also beat Sábliková in the 3000m. With those two golds, Wüst won her 11th and 12th world single distance titles.
“The ice master did a good job and I could skate really fast,” said the Dutch star, giving her impressions of the Gangneung Oval, where she will return for PyeongChang 2018. “The Village is nice and compact, and Gangneung is a very pretty town. I can’t wait to come back here next year.”
The prodigious Wüst will be going for Olympic gold again in events ranging from the 1,000m to the 5,000m and the team pursuit in the Republic of Korea, where she could well become the most decorated long-track speed skater in the history of the Games.