Yanking off her hood and throwing her hands above her head after finishing her 1,500-meter speedskating race, 35-year-old bisexual Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands was delighted to see her time on the scoreboard and knew had just skated her way into Olympic history.
Having just set a new Olympic record of 1 minute and 53.28 seconds, Wüst watched the final pair of the night take the ice. Settling down, she attempted to watch Japan’s Miho Takagi race, but she was unable to relax with three races remaining that could ruin her chances of another gold medal.
“An Olympic record on this track is amazing,” said Wüst to AP News. “Time goes by really fast. I was really proud already of myself that I did my best 1,500 in the biggest moment.”
Wüst leaped into the arms of her coach to begin celebrating yet another gold medal when Takagi, skating in the last pair, came up 0.44 short.
With a triumph in the 1,500 meters at the Beijing Olympics, Wüst became the only athlete — woman or male, winter or summer — to win individual gold medals at five separate Olympic Games.
“Of course it means a lot, but I don’t realize it yet,” said Wüst. “Ask me this question again in 10 days. I’m an emotional mess in my head.”
Wüst already had the most medals in Winter Olympic speed skating history. She increased her medal tally to an even dozen since her debut at the 2006 Turin Games, with two events still remaining. But this gold medal makes the sixth of her collection — five in individual events evenly distributed over her remarkable Olympic career.
“She had the perfect race at the best moment,” said fellow Dutch skater Antoinette de Jong, who settled for the bronze behind the winner and Japan’s Miho Takagi.
At 35 years of age, Wüst is the oldest Olympic gold medalist in speed skating and plans to retire following the Beijing Olympic Games. On the other hand, she denies the notion that she is growing too old to participate, a point she made clear at Beijing's National Speed Skating Oval, dubbed The Ice Ribbon.
"Age is just a number. It's just about how you feel. I'm not thinking like, 'I'm 35, I'm too old,' hell no," she said to NPR. "To then have a race like this one is just incredible. I just have no words for it."
Wüst's decision to retire after the Beijing Games will not be swayed by another gold medal.
“This is it,” she said. “I will leave on top.”