Rookie Skater Esmee Visser Surprises Herself With Gold Medal Win

Entering the race, Visser was not considered a medal contender, shocking even herself with the win

Rookie Esmee Visser came out on top and gave the Netherlands yet another gold medal in Olympic speedskating.

The 22-year-old Visser won the 5000m on Friday, while 45-year-old Claudia Pechstein faded and fell short of a fourth gold over the distance.

"It was a fun skate," Visser said, undaunted by the multiple Olympic champions she faced.

Entering the race, Visser was not considered a medal contender, shocking even herself with the win.

"I told myself to just enjoy the race, focus on how I skate and what I've done in training, then something is possible," Visser said after the race. "But I never imagined this. I thought a podium would be good, I never thought about this (gold)."

Visser broke her personal record by over six seconds in the win. Pyeongchang is the 22-year old's first Olympics and she joins the likes of Ireen Wuest as one of The Netherlands' youngest speedskating gold medalists.

Visser was hardly a factor in international skating until she qualified for the Dutch squad over Christmas. But on Friday, she gave The Netherlands a sixth gold medal out of seven races at the Olympic Oval and the first Dutch title in the event in 30 years.

Two-time defending champion Martina Sablikova had been unstoppable in the 5000m since 2007, winning two Olympic gold medals and nine world championships during that span.

Sablikova missed out on becoming the third-ever speed skater to win three straight gold medals in an event, but with six Olympic medals is now tied for the disticntion of the Czech Republic's most decorated Olympian.

As she stepped up to the podium Sablikova did not look like someone who had just must missed out on a major Olympic achievement. Instead, she leaped up and celebrated her silver as if it were a gold.

"This means everything. We had, this year, so (many) problems. Now it's satisfaction for me. It doesn't matter what it was three months before. Now I have a silver, I'm happy," Sablikova said to the media.

In 2017, she was hampered by an early-season back injury and did not perform as dominantly as usual in her two events.

In addition to racing against each other in the final pair and finishing second and third, Sablikova and Voronina formed another connection before the race.

“My coach was not here and I had nobody to skate with," Voronina said to the ISU. "Martina Sablikova was the only one who offered to train with me.”

Voronina is the first Olympic Athlete from Russia to win a medal in speed skating.

"It's the most valuable thing in my sports career, but I can't say anything now. I just don't believe that I've won," Voronina said to the media.

Annouk van der Weijden (NED) set the pace early with a 6:54.17 in the first pair of the event, but would tragically miss out on bronze by .19 of a second.

"It was a personal best, which is always good. Now I have to wait and see what it is worth," van der Weijden said following her race.

At 45 years and 359 days old, five-time gold medlaist Claudia Pechstein (GER) showed signs of her age finishing in eighth.

Carlijn Schoutens (USA) completed a time of 7:13.28. The PyeongChang Games will serve as a learning experience for the 23-year old who concluded her Olympic participation today after competing in the 3000m as well.

Pechstein, who had won three titles over the distance and was still in great form this season, was seeking to become the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympic title. But she faded to eighth place, 15.20 seconds behind Visser.

Turning red with effort, Visser won in 6 minutes, 50.23 seconds, holding off the charging Sablikova by 1.62 seconds.

"Amazing," Visser told Dutch broadcaster NOS. "Zero times I skated against these girls, women actually. It was really my first contact with them. It worked out well.

"I would have been very happy with a second place or a place on the podium. But if you're so close, you want to win. And it is cool that that happened."

Copyright NBC Olympics - Pyeongchang
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