Suzanne Schulting (NED) capped the perfect season by being crowned the overall Ladies’ winner at the 2019 World Short Track Championship at the Arena Armeec in Sofia on Sunday.
Suzanne Schulting won the 1000m and the 3000m Superfinal on Sunday to take the title © International Skating Union
She became only the second European to lift the title in its 44-year history and beat one of its greatest ever racers, Korea’s Choi Min Jeong – who had won three of the last four editions – into second place in dramatic style.
“I am incredibly happy right now,” said a jubilant Schulting after finishing first in the 3000m Superfinal to seize the title. “It’s bizarre, incredible. I won this because I trained so, so hard last summer. This really counts.
“After my Olympic title at PyeongChang over 1000m, I wanted to prove that I am not a one-day fly [one-season wonder]. I won so many races this year. I won the European title, so that encouraged me to come to Sofia and finish with the World title. All credit to my coach, Jeroen Otter.”
Schulting had faced an uphill battle at the start of the day: defending champion Choi had a significant lead after a difficult Saturday for the Netherlands racer. She left the rink in tears after being penalised in the 1500m, but put some vital points on the board by getting bronze in the 500m.
“After the 1500m I really felt frustration, but I thought I had to get back my focus for the 500m. The day started disappointingly but ended really well. Maybe I was a little more aggressive in the 500m because of it,” Schulting said.
Schulting beat Choi Min Jeong into second place in both of Sunday's races in Sofia © International Skating Union
It meant Schulting needed to win Sunday morning’s 1000m, and she did so impressively. She started the race at the front and stayed there thanks to her raw power. Choi moved up from the back with two laps to go, showing some incredible speed, but couldn’t quite catch her rival on the line. Kim Boutin (CAN) finished third.
Choi entered the Superfinal still wearing the leader’s Red Hat; Schulting would simply have to finish ahead of the Korean to take it for herself. And she made her move on the second-to-last corner, thundering through to victory. Choi was second and fellow Korean Kim Ji Yoo third.
Schulting won gold with 81 points, just five ahead of Choi. Boutin got the overall bronze, with 37.
Choi, who was World Champion in 2015, 2016 and 2018, was graceful in defeat.
“I am happy. I got a heavy injury [this season], so I did better than I thought I would,” she said.
“Suzanne is very strong. She has improved her start, which is very fast, and she has a lot of power. She is also very calm mentally, which helps her a lot. It is a very tough Ladies’ field that is not easy to win. I like having good rivals, and them being so good makes me improve.”
With Choi still just 20 and Schulting 21, their rivalry looks set to run for a number of seasons.
Netherlands discipline manager Wilf O’Reilly believes Schulting’s Olympic gold gave her a huge mental boost that has led to her dominance this season.
“I think after the Olympic Games, this became a real profession for Suzanne,” he said.
“I wasn’t just, ‘I like to do my hobby, which is sport, and I’m really good at it’. The success took her to another level in Holland - she was their sportswoman of the year. Some people struggle with such attention, but she has been incredibly professional.”
Dutch skater Suzanne Schulting became only the second European to win the Ladies' World title © International Skating Union
Choi found some consolation in the final event of the day, as she was part of the Korean Ladies’ Team that won relay gold. Russia were second and Canada third.
The Netherlands lost out, with Schulting regretful that she couldn’t help give her teammates a taste of the glory.
“The only thing that was sad today was that I didn’t do well in the relay, and I really feel bad for my teammates,” she said.
“It was my fault. I wanted to end the day with a title that we could celebrate together. But it’s good motivation for us to move onto next season as a team.”
But Choi will also be bristling to take her crown back. The Korean has got the legendary Chinese skater Yang Yang’s record of six World Championship titles in her sights.
“I am confident going forward that I can win more,” she said. “I want to win lots and lots, again and again. I don’t know if I can win as many as Yang, but I will try.”