Esmee Visser of the Netherlands secured her country’s sixth speed skating gold of PyeongChang 2018 with a stunning display in the women’s 5,000m at the Gangneung Oval on Friday 16 February.
Racing in the fourth of the six pairs in the longest Olympic speed skating distance for women, the 22-year-old Visser crossed the line in a time of 6:50.23, fully six seconds faster than her previous best. Her surprise win confirmed the potential she had shown in taking the 3,000m title at the 2018 European Single Distance Championships, only the second international race of her career.
Sablikova comes up short
Visser had a nervous wait before she could celebrate, with reigning two-time champion and world record holder Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic taking to the ice in the final pair. Yet, with the exception of her opening two and a half laps, the Czech great was always off the pace.
Trailing the Dutch skater by two seconds at the 3,000m mark, Sablikova was 1.92 seconds adrift heading into the final lap. Try as she might, she could not close the gap and had to settle for silver in a time of 6:51.85.
Skating alongside Sablikova, Olympic Athlete from Russia Natalia Voronina took the bronze in a time of 6:53.98, with the Netherlands’ Annouk van der Weijden, who led the competition at the halfway stage, finishing just out of the medals in fourth.
“I told myself to just enjoy the race, focus on how I skate and what I've done in training, and then anything is possible,” said the new Olympic champion, reflecting on her gold medal. “But I never imagined this. I thought a podium would be good. I never thought about this.
“It feels amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I think it’ll take a few more days yet, but it feels amazing for now. I dreamed of the Olympics in four years in Beijing. It was also a huge achievement that I could compete here and that I qualified because there’s so much competition in the Netherlands. I’m improving every day. What I did today is unbelievable.”
“It was a very hard race because Esmee skated very well,” commented Sablikova, whose preparations for PyeongChang 2018 were hampered by a back injury. “I tried after 3,000m but she was very strong today. I just had to settle for second place.”