With five gold, five silver and one bronze medal, skater Ireen Wüst may undisputedly call herself the most successful Dutch Olympian, but she is certainly not yet satiated. In 2022 she wants to put a scoop on it and get another gold medal. This fanaticism has been in the minds of the people of Brabant from an early age.
In the election of the best Dutch Olympic player of all time, Wüst and her – so far – eleven slices finished in third place.
Furious and stamping, young Wüst walked upstairs. It was the winter of 1997 and father Wim Wüst had just stranded somewhere between Harlingen and Franeker during the Elfstedentocht. “Dad shouldn’t have given up,” she said to her mother with tearful eyes.
“In my eyes he has given up and you never give up”, she explained her reaction. “That’s in me.” For the Wüst family it was the first, and certainly not the last, acquaintance with the fanaticism of young Ireen.
With that same fanaticism Wüst soon packed the skating audience. On the stands in Thialf people went crazy at the first big tournament of the Brabantse.
During the television interviews she tried to talk so loudly that she stood out from the audience. She thought the interviewer wouldn’t hear her otherwise. More than once she used the word ‘bang’ and she would continue to do so in the years that followed. “I should have patented that word.”
At the age of 19, Wüst already ‘popped’ to Olympic gold at the 3,000 metres in Turin (2006), making her the youngest Dutch player ever to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
“Mighty beautiful”, that’s how Wüst described her first Olympics. “Then you’re nineteen and all of a sudden you’re there. It was one big party. There was a dining room and a games room. I really thought, “Where did I end up?
The Olympic village no longer holds any secrets for Wüst. After 2006 she also participated in the games of 2010 (Vancouver), 2014 (Sochi) and 2018 (Pyeonchang). Now four Games in a row may not be so special, but grabbing at least one gold medal in all those Games is quite exceptional.
With her gold slab on the 1,500 meters in Pyeongchang she broke records again. Not only did she become the most successful Dutch Olympian, she also became the first skater of all time to win an Olympic medal eleven times and the first athlete to win an individual gold medal at four different Winter Olympics.
To the Games one more time
After the Games in South Korea Wüst thought she had ridden her last Olympic race, but in the following summer she came back to that decision. “I rediscovered how much I enjoy skating, the renunciation, the bike rides through Friesland, the power training.”
And there’s still a record she can hunt: that of most gold medals. With five gold medals she is on par with the German Claudia Pechstein and the American Bonnie Blair.
The trio has one gold slice less than Lidia Skoblikova, who with six times Olympic gold still holds a record. Wüst hopes to be on par with the Russin in two years’ time in Beijing.
This is where the 34-year-old’s skating career really ends, she predicts. “The Beijing Games are a point. And an exclamation mark.”