Wust skates among the greats after Sochi

Thu Dec 18, 2014 2:30pm EST
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By Patrick Johnston

(Reuters) - Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust's haul of five medals in Sochi equaled the biggest individual tally at a single Winter Games and cast her amongst the Olympic greats, but it offered no guarantees about her funding to carry on.

The 28-year-old was lauded with awards, accolades and meetings with Dutch royalty upon winning the 3,000 meters and team pursuit golds at the Adler Arena in February, along with silvers in the 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000m as the revered Dutch took 23 of the 36 medals available on the oval.

Eye-catching for most, but not for the slight woman from Goirle, in the south of the country, who targeted the feat after taking home five medals from the World Single Distance Championships on the same Sochi ice a year earlier.

Wust's tally equaled the Winter Olympic best mark set by Finnish speedskater Clas Thunberg and Norwegian Roald Larsen in 1924 and matched by fellow skaters American Eric Heiden (1980) and Canadian Cindy Klassen (2006) as well as five cross-country skiers.

Her achievements were lapped up by some sections of the American media, who championed the skater they labeled "openly gay" in the face of Russian leader Vladimir Putin's controversial "anti-gay propaganda" law.

Wust, who was dating a man at the time, received a "cuddle" from Putin following her 3,000m victory and questioned why reporters were so interested in her sexuality.

With the hullabaloo over, she returned to the Netherlands "feeling like a zombie" after giving everything she had on the ice to eclipse swimmer Inge de Bruijn as the most successful Dutch Olympian only to be met with a hammer blow.

"There were a lot of changes that went on in Dutch skating with teams quitting, commercial teams disappeared," she said in a telephone interview earlier this month after being named Reuters Sports Woman of the Year.   Continued...

Irene Wust of the Netherlands waves after the women's 1,000 metres speed skating race at the Adler Arena during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato