Lara van Ruijven, Short Track Speed Skater from the Netherlands, who tragically passed away last week aged 27, was one of her country’s brightest sporting talents.
Lara van Ruijven (NED) ©International Skating Union
Among a close-knit team also featuring brilliant athletes such as Suzanne Schulting, Rianne de Vries and Yara van Kerkhof, Lara was the Ladies’ field speed demon. They called her ‘Panter’ (panther) and she decorated her helmet with the colors of the wildcat. On the ice, especially in her favorite discipline, the 500m, she was always ready to strike.
Lara grew up in Naaldwijk, near The Hague, and first tried out skating aged six. At 18, she showed her promise by finishing sixth at the 2010/2011 World Junior Championships, and was soon making a mark on the senior World Cup circuit, too.
By 2013, aged 20, she stood on top of her first major podium, collecting gold medals at both the ISU World Cup in Dresden, Germany, and the European Championships in Malmo, Sweden as part of the Netherlands’ excellent 3000m Relay group – which also featured the likes of Schulting and van Kerkhof, with whom she was very close.
“We are great friends and we push each other on,” Lara had commented. “Everyone is doing so good. You see their results and medals, and you want to win them, too. In training you have each other to challenge, which is a positive thing. I get to race lots of laps with Suzanne Schulting and the other girls every day. She is the best in the world, so who can be better to skate with?”
View this post on Instagram
Rust zacht lieve lieve Lara🐆❤ Jij zei ooit tegen mij, in de heatbox, voor de start van mijn EK relay finale debuut, dat het wel goed zou komen.. Dat ik me geen zorgen hoefde te maken. Dit zei ik 2 weken geleden ook tegen jou. Maar het is niet goed gekomen.. Ik ga je zo verschrikkelijk missen lieve Laar. Je zit voor altijd in mijn hart. Ik hou van je❤
Further Relay golds followed – at the European Championships in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020.
Lara van Ruijven, Suzanne Schulting, Yara van Kerkhof & Rianne de Vries (NED) celebrate after the Ladies 3000m Relay at the 2020 ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships. ©International Skating Union
And the Dutch skaters also combined to take a bronze medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. They had to deal with an agonizing wait before the referees confirmed the results of an on-ice penalty – but were ecstatic when it was ruled that they had finished on the podium.
Suzanne Schulting, Yara van Kerkhof, Lara van Ruijven & Jorien Ter Mors (NED) celebrate having won the bronze medal in the Ladies 3000m Relay at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games ©GettyImages
As much as she was a team player, however – and a modest, considerate figure off the rink – Van Ruijven was also emerging as a brilliant individual racer. Grappling against other lightning-fast talents like Natalia Maliszewska (POL) and Martina Valcepina (ITA), she won individual World Cup gold at Calgary 2018/19 and on home ice in Dordrecht in 2019/20.
Her greatest solo moment, however, came at the 2019 World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she took gold in the 500m. In doing so, she beat her great friend Suzanne Schulting to become the first female Short Track skater representing the Netherlands to win a world title (Schulting went on to win the following day’s 1000m and the 3000m super final to take the overall crown).
Lara van Ruijven (NED) 2019 World 500m champion ©International Skating Union
Lara, who was studying law at university as well as training full-time, passed away at a hospital in Perpignan, France after falling ill during a training camp in the Pyrenees. She was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and placed in a coma. Tributes to her came from all corners of the Short Track world. None were more heartfelt than those of her teammates.