- 28 Feb 1988
Speed Skating - Speed skater Van Gennip defies the odds to win triple gold
Dutch speed skater Yvonne van Gennip arrived in Calgary under the radar. Most of the attention was focused on East Germany's top competitors, and van Gennip had suffered a foot injury less than two months before the Games began, the result of a boot that had been tied too tightly. As a result she had to undergo surgery and spent two weeks recovering in hospital. She was still regarded as a medal prospect, but nobody expected her to produce the stunning displays that she did.
Van Gennip had made her Olympic debut four years earlier in Sarajevo, when she produced a strong showing in three events without ever seriously pushing for a medal. There was little doubt that she had improved markedly since then, but the combined obstacle of the East German challenge and her foot injury created what looked like a near insurmountable hurdle.
Her first event was the 3,000m, and from the start it was clear she faced a tough battle. Defending champion Andrea Ehrig of East Germany was first on the ice and knocked more than four seconds off the world record set by her team-mate Gabi Zange, putting herself in pole position for victory.
Van Gennip set off three pairs later. She trailed Ehrig's pace for most of her skate, but then found a new gear in the closing stages to take victory by 0.15 seconds and break Ehrig’s world record in the process.
Four days later and she was again pitched against Ehrig in the 1,500m, along with another East German veteran Karin Kania. Once again the contest proved extremely close, but once more it was van Gennip who prevailed, as she beat Kania by 0.14 seconds to set a new Olympic record and take her second gold medal of the Games.
Van Gennip went into her final event, the 5,000m, bursting with confidence. Ehrig went off in the first pair and broke Van Gennip's world record by more than three seconds. Just as in the 1,500m, the Dutch skater reacted by producing her very best form, both in terms of speed and tactics. Once again, she was just off the required pace until the latter stages, but then put on a burst of speed and crossed the line almost exactly three second ahead of Ehrig's mark, to regain the world record and win her own third gold of the Games.
Van Gennip returned home to a heroic reception, with huge crowds turning out to welcome her back to her native town of Haarlem.