Although Vanessa Herzog (AUT) had the fastest full lap of the Ladies' field, she hadn’t been able to beat Nao Kodaira (JPN) in the 500m until the most important race of the 2018/19 season.
Nao Kodaira (JPN) Vanessa Herzog (AUT) Konami Soga (JPN) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
At the 2019 ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships, Herzog finally outskated the Japanese sprint queen to take her first senior World title. It was a dream come true for the 23-year-old Austrian sprinter, who also won the 2018 World title 500m in inline skating. Herzog's inline and ice skating journey started in 2000, when one day her grandfather took her to the ice rink in Innsbruck.
"I was five years old when I first started Speed Skating", Herzog says with a glimpse of nostalgia. "From that moment onwards Speed Skating was part of my life. It's a combination of strength, smoothness and grace and of course I love the speed."
Apart from Speed Skating on ice Herzog also took on inline skating. She says: "I love racing in the summer too. The technique is similar. You use the same muscles, but there are many differences too. Skating on ice is smoother, the strokes are longer and the technique is more precise.
Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
"Another big difference between long track Speed Skating on ice and inline skating, is the race format. In ice skating it's the fastest time, in inline skating it's first to the line. Therefore you have to adjust more to the other competitors in inline."
Although it's a tough choice ice skating is more important to Herzog than inline.
"I like both formats. When the winter ends, I take my inline skates to go racing and after the World Inline Championships in the summer I concentrate on the ice again. Ice skating is more important because it's Olympic. If inline skating would be Olympic too, I would not be able to choose."
Herzog has worked steadfastly to become an Olympic skater from a very young age. She used to train in Innsbruck, Inzell and Collalbo. At the moment she lives in Ferlach in Austria.
"It's about a two-and-a-half hour drive to Inzell. That's where I train most of the time," she says. "For me Inzell feels like home, which made it extra special to win my first senior World title and to be able to celebrate it with my family and friends around."
Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
A couple of weeks before celebrating the 500m World title in Inzell, Herzog won the European Sprint title in Collalbo, another track she has known since she was a kid.
At age twelve Herzog already competed internationally. She says: "My first international competition was the Viking Race in Heerenveen, Netherlands. I was very young at the time and I remember skating versus Sanneke de Neeling (NED), whom I still compete with in the senior ranks. We've known each other for a long time now. I skated in the Viking Race every year since and I think I won it three times."
Although Herzog found out pretty quickly which distance she was good at "In the Junior World Cups I used to skate all the distances, but the 500m has always been my best distance so it became obvious soon enough. In my last two years as a junior I gradually specialized in sprinting."
When asked about her most influential people in her sporting career, Herzog, née Bittner, doesn’t hesitate to mention her parents.
Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NOR) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)
"They were very supportive and they always facilitated me in Speed Skating, but they never told me what to do. They used to bring me to training and pick me up when I was done, but they never stayed to watch. They insisted that it was my thing and that I should enjoy it without them interfering."
In September 2016 Vanessa Bittner married her coach Thomas Herzog, and although her parents continue to play a role in her life, she commented "At the moment my coaches Desley Hill and of course my husband are the most influential people in my career.
"Thomas is with me every training and he sees everything I do. When I'm a bit sloppy for only a second, he keeps me sharp and helps me to raise my level time and again. There aren’t many Speed Skaters in Austria and I train alone a lot. It really helps me to have Thomas around, otherwise I would go crazy."
Emese Hunyady (AUT) at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©AFP
With her 500m title in Inzell, Herzog became the second official Austrian World Champion in Speed Skating history after Emese Hunyady (AUT).
"Hunyady is the biggest Speed Skater we've ever had in Austria. She became an Olympic and World Champion in 1994, but I was born in 1995, so she's a bit before my time. We do see each other sometimes in Inzell. She's training kids in Switzerland and when we meet she's always very supportive.
Anni Friesinger (GER) at the Winter Olympic Games 2010 ©AFP
"My biggest sporting hero is Anni Friesinger (GER). When I grew up, I saw her skating in Inzell and she has always been an inspiration."
Although the young Austrian won the 500m World title and the European Sprint Championships, Herzog’s appetite for more titles has only just gotten bigger.
Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the Winter Olympic Games 2018©AFP
"The Olympic Games are the pinnacle for every Speed Skater." Herzog already competed at the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. At the age of eighteen she became 27th in the 500m, 24th in the 1000m and 34th in the 1500. Last year in PyeongChang she finished fourth in the 500m and fifth in the 1000m, and she aims to win a medal in Beijing 2022.
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