Dutch speed skating legend Ireen Wust has more accolades than she can probably recall herself - but in Beijing, she can achieve what would arguably be her greatest yet.
The 35-year-old would become the first summer or winter Olympian in history to win an individual gold medal at five separate Games if she wins either the 1000m or 1500m title in China. Sporting success, judged on medals alone, is not a particularly fair metric - given some sports feature many more events than others. But longevity and being a serious contender for such a long time is surely a more accurate statistic.
In the UK, Wust may not be that well known, given long track speed skating’s profile. She is perhaps the greatest Olympian you have never heard of.
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The list of achievements is phenomenal - the Netherlands’ most successful Olympian, the most decorated LGBTQ Olympian ever, 11 Olympic medals including five gold and 44 medals at world level including 15 single distance golds and seven allround titles. Throw in five European allround victories, too - and we have not even started talking about World Cups.
Wust left it late to secure her place at Beijing 2022, only having her spot confirmed at the beginning of January. She will compete in the 1000m, 1500m and team pursuit.
“Look, I've been doing this for 16 years or something. As a result, everyone always expects you to make it. But it seems much easier than it is. The level is so high,” she told de Gelderlander after qualifying for the Olympics.
“The pressure was so great. If I hadn't placed myself, the headlines would have looked very different tomorrow, wouldn't they? But luckily I am not doing this for the first time.”
That experience could play a huge role in Beijing. It is wrong to think that at the age of 35, Wust is over the hill. Just last year, she won the team pursuit world champion and her most recent allround victory came in 2020 - when she also topped the podium in the 1500m.
Since earning selection, the medals have kept coming. At the European Championships in Heerenveen this month, Wust relinquished her 1500m title to fellow Dutch athlete Antoinette de Jong but still picked up silver, before linking up with her team-mate to win pursuit gold. On losing out on the individual honour, there was no panic from Wust, instead writing it off as getting it out of her system. “Is it better to lose at insignificant moments?” she said.
Wust is among a select group of athletes who have won golds at four Games - only six summer Olympians have managed the same. She will be one of the favourites for titles in China, and if she does manage to land a sixth gold medal across five Games, she will be in a class of her own.
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