Feb 04, 2023 at 6:44 PMUpdate: 5 minutes ago
Irene Schouten became overtired by all the extra attention she received as a three-time Olympic champion. On willpower, the thirty-year-old skater finished third in the 3 kilometers at the NK distances on Saturday, so she just qualified for the World Cup.
Coaches Jillert Anema and Arjan Samplonius already warned Schouten about this before the season. This can be a very tough winter mentally, they told their leader. Because do you know an athlete who became a three-time Olympic champion and won a lot the following year?
Schouten’s reaction was typical of her character. The North Holland woman was raised with the idea that giving up is not an option, so she wanted to prove that she could remain successful after a shower of gold medals at the Games. “But in the end Jillert and I were right again,” says Samplonius on Saturday in Thialf with a wink.
In December, Schouten had no choice but to slam on the brakes. In consultation with her coaches, she decided to take a break, skip the NK all-round and slowly build up the training again.
“Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Irene was overtired and she fell ill. Only then did she really find out how busy the past year has been for her,” says Samplonius.
“Since the Games, she hadn’t had a moment to take it easy. It was just too much. The competitions that cost her a lot of energy. And the peripheral matters that have been added to her Olympic medals, such as sponsor interests and presentations .”
The NK podium of the 3 kilometers, with Joy Beune (silver), Antoinette Rijpma-de Jong (gold) and Irene Schouten (bronze) from left to right. Photo: Pro Shots
Schouten now tries to say no more often
Samplonius and Anema advised Schouten to take a break from everything outside the ice rink. On Saturday, she also did not speak to the written press after her 3 kilometers in Heerenveen. “Irene will have finished talking,” said Samplonius.
In front of the NOS camera, Schouten did explain why she had not come close to winning. “I’ve been fighting myself for a while. I’ve had a really intense year and I’ve been struggling with that more in recent months,” she said in tears.
“After the Games, I really wanted to tackle everything. In my world there is no no, because if you really want something, you can do a lot. But now I can say that I probably did too much. From December I have so said no more often. I hope that was just in time to be good at the World Cup.”
After Saturday, Schouten will at least know that she can participate in the World Championship distances (2-5 March in Thialf). That seemed like a formality in advance, but at the 3 kilometers she had to fight hard to grab the third and final ticket. Due to a final sprint in the final lap, she was 0.03 seconds faster than teammate Marijke Groenewoud, who she referred to fourth place.
The narrow escape did not cause euphoria for Schouten. “Irene is never happy with a third place, so not now either,” says Samplonius. “She is a bit better than she showed today, but that is not surprising. This was her first long track race since mid-December, so she is still looking for confidence. There is only one way for that: she has to win again. Hopefully she will succeed that at the World Cup.”
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