Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst was an eight-time Olympic medallist at the age of 27, and the most decorated athlete at Sochi 2014. Refusing to rest on her laurels, she intends to raise the bar even higher at PyeongChang 2018.
Speed skating has provided the Netherlands with 35 of its 37 Olympic Winter Games gold medals won prior to PyeongChang 2018, and with 105 of their 110 medals in total. The dominant force in the sport, the Dutch have bred champions for decades, though none quite as good as Wüst.
The Dutchwoman first made her mark on the international stage as a 19-year-old at Turin 2006, where she became her country's youngest ever Olympic champion in her sport, pocketing gold in the women's 3,000m. She followed with the 1,500m bronze, and was voted Dutch Sportswoman of the Year in recognition of her efforts in Russia.
"Winning in Turin in 2006 was amazing," recalled Wüst. "I'd never won anything before and there I was, in my first Olympic race, winning the gold. Even when I watch it today I still can't believe what I did. It was an incredible feeling."
The rising star went on to collect the world allround speed skating title on home ice in Heerenveen (NED) in 2007, and added a silver in the same competition in Berlin (GER) the following year.
Wüst also topped the podium 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 showed her golden touch again at Vancouver 2010, where she eclipsed home skater Kristina Groves by 0.25 seconds in the 1,500m to collect the second Olympic gold of her career.
More to come
Wüst continued to add to her collection of world titles in the lead-up to Sochi 2014, regaining the allround crown in 2011 and going on to defend it successfully the next two years. She also claimed the 1,500m and 3,000m titles in 2011, and then again in Sochi in 2013, where she also featured in the Dutch trio that won the world team pursuit title.
The Dutch were utterly dominant when they returned to Sochi for the Winter Games, amassing 23 medals in all, eight of them gold.
The insatiable Wüst contributed more than anyone 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 from runners-up Poland.
With five medals in all, Wüst was the most decorated athlete at Sochi 2014.
Eyes on more prizes
"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. Hopefully I can stay healthy and not have any injuries."
In the wake of Sochi 2014, Wüst fought out an intense rivalry with three-time Olympic champion Martina Sábliková of the Czech Republic, the skater who beat her to Olympic 5,000m gold in Russia.
Though 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 January 2017, beating the Czech to win her fourth European allround crown in Heerenveen.
Two months later, Wüst collected her sixth world allround title and her first since 2014, edging her Czech adversary by a mere 0.64 seconds over the four distances.
A cornerstone of the Dutch pursuit team at the World Single Distances Championships, Wüst helped secure gold in the event in Gangneung (KOR) in 2017, where she also beat Sábliková in the 3,000m to take her career haul of golds at the championships to 12.
"The ice master did a good job and I skated really fast," said the Dutch star, giving her impressions of the rink where she will go for yet more gold at 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."
With four Olympic golds already to her name and eight medals in total, Wüst could become the most decorated speed skating Olympian of all time at PyeongChang 2018, where she will also aim to make history as the first Dutch speed skater to win medals at four successive Winter Games.
Her determination to achieve those goals saw her delay the release of her autobiography from November 2017 to the following spring.
"I've put it on hold because I want to devote all my energies to my preparations for the Games," she explained. "The book was more of a distraction than I thought it would be."
After a rather subdued start to the season, Ireen Wüst sent a message to her rivals in her last World Cup race before heading for the Republic of Korea: the 1,500m in Erfurt (Germany) on 20 January, which she won ahead of her team mate, Marit Leenstra. After Pyeongchang 2018, Wüst may well have another glorious chapter to add to her book!