Out Speedskater Takes Gold at Sochi Olympics
Ireen Wust held up three fingers.
One nail was painted red. The others were white and blue.
Gold would’ve worked, too.
Wust claimed a speedskating gold medal at her third straight Winter Olympics, knocking off defending champion Martina Sablikova in the 3,000 meters Sunday. That made the Netherlands 2-for-2 at Adler Arena, the world’s dominant speedskating nation living up to his billing through the first weekend in Sochi.
"Seventeen million Dutch wanted me to win," said Wust, who painted her nails in the colors of the Dutch flag. "Now the extreme pressure is off, and I can win more."
Skating in the next-to-last pairing on sea-level ice that wore down some other top contenders, including Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, the winner looked strong all the way through. She won with a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds, easily beating the number Sablikova had just put up in the previous pairing.
"The relief is immense," Wust said, "and the satisfaction even greater."
Sablikova, of the Czech Republic, settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wust crossed the line.
The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave host Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47. That sent the crowd into a frenzy - and even brought kudos from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"You brought an unforgettable moment of triumph and utter joy to millions of fans by taking the first medal for our team," Putin said.
Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal at age 41, but the German faded badly over the final laps and missed the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the men’s 5,000. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speedskating-mad country.
The Dutch now have captured 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.
The 27-year-old Wust kept holding up three fingers, which was only appropriate. She has been on top at three straight Olympics, claiming the 3,000 at the 2006 Turin Games and the 1,500 at Vancouver in 2010.
Wust came to Sochi as the skater to beat after winning the European allround title last month. She lived up to the billing, becoming the most decorated Dutch female Winter Olympian with three golds and a silver.
"It’s three in a row," Wust said, "and I want to become even more unique."
Her celebration was certainly one-of-a-kind. Wust went sliding on her rear toward the barrier lining the outside lane - the only time she went down all day.
The other two medalists also whooped it up. Sablikova, who won gold in both the 3,000 and 5,000 at the Vancouver Games, didn’t seem to mind giving back one of her titles.
"Wust was simply very fast today and nobody could fight her," Sablikova said.
No one was more thrilled than Graf, who glided around the rink on one skate like she was flying and nearly caused herself some major embarrassment when she unzipped her skin-tight suit on a triumphant warm-down lap - then zipped it back up quickly when she realized there was nothing on underneath.
"I totally forgot," she said sheepishly through a translator. "We have very good suits and they are very tight and I just did not know what to (do). You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit and only afterward did I realize that maybe this video will appear on YouTube. But I don’t think it will be so bad."
This article is part of "Sochi-ology," an EDGE special report series chronicling the social and political events surrounding Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Visit the full list of Sochi-ology stories here.