The Netherlands won their first ever Ladies’ gold medal at a World Short Track Speed Skating Championships as Lara van Ruijven triumphed in a fast and furious 500m final in Sofia on Saturday.
Lara Van Ruijven outshone Netherlands teammate Suzanne Schulting to take 500m gold © International Skating Union
Van Ruijven led throughout the race but looked to have lost out when Martina Valcepina (ITA) powered around the corner and beat her to the line by a fraction - sending the Dutch skater to the floor in the process.
But after a lengthy consultation, the judges decreed that Valcepina – winner of the last two 500m World Cup golds – had committed a foul.
“My dream came true and I can’t believe it, I have to cry,” Van Ruijven said. “To become the first Dutch woman World Champion is indescribable. I knew I had the power to win today, so I really went for it.
“The only pity is that I couldn’t celebrate winning when I crossed the line, because I was too busy falling over. The only thing I thought was ‘oh no, I’ve thrown it away’.
“I went in with Suzanne (Schulting) at my side today, and so to finish one and three is a great result. We didn’t make a plan before the race - we just both went for it, and I won. I’m so emotional. To get both of us on the podium was great.”
Martina Valcepina (right) passed Van Ruijven on the finish line but was penalised for a foul © International Skating Union
The third-placed finish provided some consolation for Schulting, the season’s dominant athlete, who also missed out in the 1500m earlier in the day after being penalised for a lane change in the semifinal.
But seeing her teammate take gold at the Arena Armeec brightened her mood.
“The competition is open again,” Schulting said after picking up overall points for finishing in third position. “It’s amazing that Lara has become a World Champion, and it’s great for me that I take some points. The day started badly and then got a lot better.”
The Ladies’ 1500m was won by Olympic champion Choi Min Jeong (KOR), who skated with calm authority through qualifying and the final.
Many had expected an exciting head-to-head battle with Schulting, but the Netherlands skater’s elimination made it a much easier last race for Choi.
She stalked at the back of the pack until six laps remained, then glided to the front.
Choi Min Jeong (KOR) wears the leader's Red Hat going into day two of the World Championships © International Skating Union
“I didn’t have the best start to the season, and then I had an injury in the third World Cup, so today I am very happy to win a World Championship gold,” Choi said.
“I felt very strong, and it’s my first silver at a World Championship, so I’m very happy,” said Boutin. “I took a big break after the Olympics and that was helpful for me mentally coming into the season.
“In the World Cup I tried really hard to beat her (Choi). I feel stronger now, and she’s a great person to compete against.”
Choi goes into day two wearing the leader’s Red Hat, with Van Ruijven in second and Boutin third.
However, Van Ruijven tipped her compatriot Schulting to create more Dutch history on Sunday.
“The 1000m tomorrow is her favourite event, so I think she can win that and become overall World Champion. She is so strong at the moment,” Van Ruijven said.
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, it has already been a memorable weekend for the Netherlands.