BEIJING (AP) — Ireen Wüst can't really explain it.
Something inside of her just changes when she gets to an Olympic Games.
Her confidence soars. Her legs feel stronger. When she needs that little extra bit of speed, it's always there.
"I don’t know what it is,” Wüst said. “I just see the rings and something magical happens.”
It happened again Monday, at the age of 35, pushing the Dutch speedskating star into a class of her own.
Wüst glided into the record books with a victory in the 1,500 meters at the Beijing Games, becoming the first athlete — woman or man, winter or summer — to claim individual gold medals at five different Olympics.
Nope, Michael Phelps didn't do that. Neither did Carl Lewis. British rower Steve Redgrave won gold medals over five Olympics, but each of those victories came as part of two- or four-man teams.
Wüst did it all on her own.
The enormity of her accomplishment has yet to sink in.
“Of course it means a lot, but I don’t realize it yet,” said Wüst, who plans to retire after the Olympics. “Ask me this question again in 10 days. I’m an emotional mess in my head.”
Wüst already was the most decorated speedskater in Winter Olympic history. She pushed her medal haul to an even dozen, a collection she started gathering in her debut at the 2006 Turin Games.
But what made this one really stand out was the color.
She’s got six of them now — five in individual events that are evenly distributed over each of the Olympics she has competed in during her remarkable career.
On the biggest stage, Wüst always seems to shine.
“She had the perfect race at the best moment,” said fellow Dutch skater Antoinette de Jong, who settled for the bronze behind the winner and Japan's Miho Takagi.
Wüst set an Olympic record while defending her title in the 1,500, crossing the line with a time of 1 minute, 53.28 seconds at the Ice Ribbon oval.
Wüst yanked off her hood, threw up her arms and tilted back her head in delight when she saw her time on the scoreboard.
“An Olympic record on this track is amazing,” she said. “The time is really fast. I was really proud already of myself that I did my best 1,500 in the biggest moment.”
She couldn't really let loose, not with three more pairs still to go.
“It's nerve-wracking,” Wüst said with a chuckle.
She wasn't the only one nervously watching the clock as the remaining six skaters made their runs at the gold.
From afar, the Dutch king and queen were holding their breath as well.
“The nerve-wracking wait was excruciating but made the release of this historic victory extra beautiful,” King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima wrote in a Facebook post. “Wüst concluded her impressive career in her own way: with full focus and strong willpower.”
When Takagi, skating in the final pair, came up 0.44 short, Wüst leapt into the arms of her coach to begin celebrating yet another gold medal.
“Expected is not quite the word for it," she said. "But I felt really good in training. I did amazing lap times in training, so I knew I was good.”
Amazingly, Wüst has medaled in the 1,500 — a race that requires the speed of a sprinter and the staying power of an endurance skater — at all five of her Olympics.
She’s won the gold three times, to go along with a silver and a bronze. Her other individual golds are in the 3,000 at the Turin and Sochi Games.
“Words can’t describe her class,” said American Brittany Bowe, who finished more than 2 1/2 seconds behind the winner in 10th. “She is the greatest of all time, as her performance shows. Another Olympic gold medal in Olympic record fashion. I’m honored to have competed against her for so many years, and even more so to call her a friend.”
The mighty Dutch team won its second gold in three speedskating events, setting itself up for another big performance after dominating the last two Winter Games at the oval.
While some may have written her off because of her age, Wüst never doubted that she had one more gold medal performance in those strong legs of hers.
"Age is just a number," she said. “It's all about how you feel. I'm not thinking about that I'm 35 and old. Never.”
Still, winning another gold will not dissuade Wüst from her plans to retire after the Beijing Games.
“This is it,” she said. “I will leave on top.”
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