SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The latest, greatest, high-tech speed skating suit capable of propelling athletes to record times, reigning 1500 meter Olympic champion Irene Wust has heard it all before.
If manufacturers are to be believed, American athletes in Sochi are donning the fastest speed skating suit ever made. Canada and Russia have made similar claims.
But for the experienced 27-year-old Wust, who won 3000m gold at the Turin Games in 2006, the mere question about the proposed advantage drew a wry smile which suggested ‘here we go again’.
“Since Turin the suits haven’t changed that much,” the Dutchwoman told reporters after training at the Adler Arena on Thursday.
”Between Nagano (1998) and Salt Lake City (2002) the suits changed a lot. But the changes they make these days are marginal.
“My current suit pushes me into a speed skating position and that is good.”
While she may not have the supposed boost of the reported multi-million dollar American suit, triple defending world all round champion Wust has been buoyed by a change in the ice.
“The ice is good, the type of ice I like,” she said.
“In the beginning when I came here it was like really soft and a little breaky and that is a little difficult for me but now they changed it I‘m happy with that. I‘m satisfied. I‘m feeling good, no health issues so I‘m ready for the Games.”
Wust will be competing in all disciplines in Sochi as she bids to overhaul compatriots Yvonne van Gennip and Marianne Timmer who won three speed skating Olympic golds.
She faces a tough task in the 1000m against American duo Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, who will wear the much discussed suits tested by an aeronautics company, but is tipped to retain her 1500m title.
“I don’t care what others are doing,” Wust said.
“Even if they have a really fast suit I still want to beat them. I cannot change it. So it won’t worry me.”
Her 3000m race against defending champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Germany’s five-times Olympic gold medalist Claudia Pechstein is highly anticipated, especially at home where speed skating is revered.
Many orange-clad fans are expected to swarm the 8,000- seater Adler Arena, adding extra pressure.
“Of course Martina Sablikova is a big favorite and Claudia Pechstein but I know I‘m one of the favorites and I like it,” said Wust, a bisexual athlete who has previously ruled out talking about her sexuality or making a statement in Sochi about Russia banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors.
“It has given me a good feeling, it gives me a little extra pressure and I like that extra pressure because that brings out the best in me. So looking forward to it.”
Editing by Ed Osmond