Irene Schouten doesn’t like traveling for work, but back to the job that changed her life? She wanted that. Skating in Beijing, where she was named queen of the Winter Games almost two years ago with three gold Olympic medals. But after two days of competition, the queen of yesteryear has to say: ‘This is really a weekend I would rather not have gone to.’
She laughs about it this Sunday afternoon. With a mixture of surprise and self-mockery, Schouten (31) says in front of the NOS camera in the middle of the Olympic track that she also wonders why this is happening. Finished eighth in the 3,000 meters, her distance. In 4.10.62: almost fifteen seconds slower than her winning time at the Games, or at the World Cup qualifying tournament three weeks ago. The gap with winner Ragne Wiklund is seven seconds. She had actually wanted to take revenge on the Norwegian reigning world champion.
About the author
Lisette van der Geest is a sports reporter for de Volkskrant and has been writing for more than ten years about Olympic sports such as skating, tennis, judo, handball and sailing.
Schouten is always merciless to himself. “This was just terrible,” he said. “This just doesn’t make any sense at all.” A day earlier she said: ‘I just drove very stupidly, I was in the crowd’, about her performance at the mass start. There she finished fifth, while silver was her goal – knowing that teammate Marijke Groenewoud rode solo to the finish after a breakaway more than six laps before the end, and would therefore take gold. Groenewoud signed for the time of the day on Sunday, by winning the B group with 3.59.34.
After the mass start, Schouten already indicated that things were ‘not really going’. Skating is all about the right timing; to find the ideal moment of push-off when shifting body weight. That is missing. Could it be the jet lag? The short time between arrival and peaks at competitions?
She arrived in Asia with her teammates from Albert Heijn-Zaanlander just a few days earlier and, unlike the majority of her competitors, skipped the first World Cup of the season last week. But in the Olympic year she flew to Salt Lake City shortly before a World Cup competition and, to her own surprise, skated a national record there.
Or is it all about the wind? She had to start in Beijing in the first stage. “Then you have no wind at all,” said Schouten. In two weeks in Stavanger she will be forced to start in the B group after her disappointing result on Sunday. ‘At least then I have wind’, referring to the air flow that is created by moving skaters. That definitely affects times.
Athletes have to deal with two types of resistance on an ice rink: friction with the ice and wind, with a ratio of approximately 20 to 80 percent. In other words: air provides a lot of resistance. A person driving alone is driving into a stationary wall of wind. But people who drive into the inner ice strip start a circulating air flow. This applies even more to a quartet start in which two pairs ride at the same time, such as in the B group. Partly for this reason, times from the B and A groups are more difficult to compare.
Her coach Jillert Anema, who is at home in Friesland this weekend and had his assistant Arjan Samplonius go to Beijing, also says she has no explanation remotely. But in a telephone conversation he points to starting in pair one. The ice was not optimal, the conditions were difficult, said Kjeld Nuis, winner of the 1,000 meters.
Anema: ‘If the conditions are unexpectedly bad, a first ride can be fatal. Then it is difficult to assess the situation.’ If things don’t go well, the race also becomes mentally tougher. If Schouten had started last, she would have approached the race very differently, according to him. She was never shocked by the winning time of 4.03. “Normally bad circumstances are in her favor.”
The coach closed his laptop after watching the first two rounds and went for a run. ‘I like to see beautiful rides, this was terrible.’ Nevertheless, he is not worried. “After a season opening in which she destroyed everyone, this must be repairable.”
Schouten himself is also not giving up. The sun is waiting, she is going to a training camp in Tenerife to cycle and break the long winter. ‘It’s not that I immediately think: I can’t do it anymore, I’m done with it. But you do have questions like: how is this possible?’ And she will have to adjust her experience with Beijing. ‘I was now thinking: I just came here for nothing.’