"Life is not about speed skating, it's about love and friendship," said Ireen Wüst in January. The most successful Dutch Olympian of all-time was competing at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships in Collalbo, only a few days after having buried her best friend and 2008 ISU World Allround Speed Skating Champion Paulien van Deutekom. Wüst was devastated, but in all her grief and despair she knew that there was only one thing she could do. "Paulien was someone who never gave up," she said. Wüst went on and would find redemption five weeks later in Inzell.
Kristina Groves (CAN) Paulien van Deutekom (NED) and Ireen Wüst (NED) at the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships 2008©AFP
Wüst and Van Deutekom were team mates at the Dutch TVM trade team since 2006. Van Deutekom, five years Wüst's senior, celebrated her biggest success with the ISU World Allround Speed Skating title in 2008. She quit Speed Skating in 2012 and gave birth to a daughter in 2017, before fate struck in the summer of 2018. Van Deutekom was diagnosed with cancer and she died on 2 January 2019.
Ireen Wüst (NED) at the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
As her best friend Wüst was struggling to keep focused on Speed Skating, while Van Deutekom was fighting for her life. "It's been tough this winter, but each time I was a bit down I called Paulien and she always encouraged me," Wüst said in Collalbo. "Before I skated a track record in the 1500m at the World Cup in Heerenveen last November, I had told Paulien that I did not feel good and she said: just go out there and skate. I'm glad that she's been able to see that race."
The ISU European Speed Skating Championships in Collalbo were held less than a week after Van Deutekom's funeral. Wüst had not been able to train properly for weeks. Wüst came seventh in the 3000m on the first day and despite still being ranked third, she knew that her sixth European Allround title was out of sight. She vowed to fight for a podium spot until the end, however. "I'm going to try to eat a little something and try to get some sleep, which I haven't managed over the past two weeks or so. And then I hope to have a bit more energy tomorrow."
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Lieve Buuf, maatje, aller liefste vriendinnetje. Wat ben ik trots op jou! Zo dapper gevochten en gestreden in een oneerlijke strijd die niet te winnen viel. Maar zo vol levenslust en altijd positief! Wat ben ik intens verdrietig dat ik jou moet missen maar ook zo dankbaar dat je mijn Buuffie was. Ik heb zoveel van je geleerd.. leren kijken zonder oordeel en overal het positieve van inzien. Onze vriendschap is meer dan bijzonder, dat is LIEFDE! Buuf , ik hou van jou! Tot ooit❤️
In Collalbo, Wüst did not find enough energy to secure a podium spot but she struck back at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Inzell one month later. In a majestic tribute to Van Deutekom Wüst smashed the 1500m track record at the Max Aicher Arena to celebrate the World Single Distances title in tears.
Ireen Wüst (NED) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Surrounded by friends and family she made amends for her devastating fourth place in Collalbo. "My form was rising and I hoped to be able to do something special here. I wanted this so much. I don't have words for this. This title is for Paulien. Maybe she helped me a little bit today."
After crossing the line she made a symbolic gesture, holding up her middle finger against cancer. "Tears of happiness, tears of pride and tears of missing," she said after having collected the most emotional of her thirteenth ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating title.
Miho Takagi (JPN) Ireen Wüst (NED) and Brittany Bowe (USA) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)