BEIJING (Reuters) -Record breaker Arianna Fontana and rising star Suzanne Schulting put the women in the spotlight at the short track speed skating events at the Beijing Olympics, providing most of the entertainment and emotions at the Capital Indoor Stadium.
The 24-year-old Schulting of the Netherlands claimed four medals, two of them gold, as she continued her meteoric rise, while Fontana cemented her status as Italy’s greatest female Olympian amid a stand-off with her own federation.
In a highly competitive fortnight, all women retained their individual titles with Fontana successfully defending her title for 500 metres, Schulting winning the 1,000 metres again and Choi Min-jeong claimed another gold in the 1,500 metres as South Korea topped the medals table.
The sport’s powerhouse, South Korea got off to a rough start amid allegations that hosts China benefitted from refereeing bias, but they ended up with two golds and three silvers.
China were second with two golds, one silver and one bronze along with Schulting.
She was the force behind her country’s gold in the women’s 3,000m relay that they won in memory of their Peyongchang team mate Lara van Ruijven, who died two years ago.
The rest, Schulting did on her own.
“I can feel really proud of these Olympics. My gold in the 1,000 where the pressure was super high and our gold with the relay,” a tearful Schulting said.
While it is a given that Schulting will be at the next Games looking to reduce the gap with Fontana, who now has 11 Olympic medals to her name – more than any other short tracker, female or male – the Italian’s presence at her home Games in Milan and Cortina in 2026 is far from guaranteed.
The 31-year-old won three medals in Beijing to become Italy’s most decorated Olympian at the Winter Games.
She trains in Hungary following a dispute with the Italian national skating federation, which opposes her choice of husband Anthony Lobello as coach, and accusations of aggression against her while training on the ice in Italy.
“Old story. Everyone makes mistakes,” she said when asked about the alleged aggressions.
“I can forgive, even if I don’t forget.”
The Italian skating federation said last week it would do everything to have Fontana at the 2026 Games.
Fontana, however, is not ready to back down.
“Things with the federation are what they are and the president said he’ll do everything he can but that I have to stay in the system, which I left to be here and successful,” she said.
“If they start like that there’s no way I’m gonna be there as an athlete (in 2026).”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)