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Geijssen launches golden age for Dutch speed skating

With victory in the 1000m, Carry Geijssen became the first Dutch speed skater to win an Olympic title. His result set the nation on the path to great success in the sport. A Dutch victory had been predicted in the event – but not by her.

Geijssen had won the Dutch All-round Championship in 1966. But others had taken the world championship titles, although she had finished third in the world earlier in 1968. Ahead of her, though, had been two compatriots. She may have been third in the world, but she was also third in the Netherlands.

The Olympic Winter Games, though, brings its own particular type of pressure. Favourites don't always prosper when the Olympic rings are above them, and at these Games a number of less-fancied competitors did well. It was a matter of who hit their top form at the right time – and Geijssen did just that.

She first competed in the 1500m. The favourite there was another Dutch skater, Stien Kaiser, who set the early pace. But her time was passed by an unlikely front-runner – Finland's Kaija Mustonen, who had never won a major international race before. Geijssen came near to beating the time, but missed out by 0.3secs to push Kaiser down to bronze, and secure silver for herself. Mustonen won the first, and as it turned out, only big race of her life.

The next day was the 1000m, where the Soviet Union's Lyudmila Titova set an imposing early target, with a new Olympic record as she skated in the third pair. Titova had recently won the world championship over 1000m and seemed a strong favourite, particularly when American Dianne Holum failed to beat that mark.

Geijssen was in the 13th pair to skate, and clearly encouraged by her strong silver over the longer 1500m distance. She matched the speed of both Titova and Holum over the early stages and then charged through the final few hundred metres to win the title by 0.3 secs.

It was to prove the highlight of Geijssen's career. She never again won a major race and retired from skating before the next Olympics, but her gold medal proved the start of a run of great success for Dutch speed skaters. A day after her victory, Ans Schut would win the Netherlands' second gold in the sport.

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