By Sakura Murakami and Krystal Hu
BEIJING (Reuters) -Irene Schouten of the Netherlands swept around the National Speed Skating Oval on Saturday to win gold in the women’s mass start, clinching her third title at the Beijing Olympics and continuing Dutch dominance of the event.
In a showdown with Ivanie Blondin, Schouten broke away from the pack as the bell sounded for the last lap, but the Canadian took an inner line to overtake her with half a circuit to go.
Blondin still had the lead at the last corner, but Schouten skated with everything she had and squeezed past Blondin in the last few metres before the finish.
“I was fast, but I got some luck, too,” the 29-year-old said after the race. “When I came out of the final corner, I felt like I had more speed than Ivanie (Blondin) … I just flew over that finish line, it’s just amazing.”
The mass start title was the 12th speed skating medal for the Netherlands at Beijing.
Schouten already had two gold medals from individual distances under her belt when she lined up for the mass start.
She follows in the footsteps of speed skating greats such as Sven Kramer and Ireen Wust in winning multiple titles at one Winter Games.
“This is something I didn’t dare dream about,” she said.
Schouten’s 16 laps around the oval were not smooth sailing.
“Normally I skate with my team mate but she crashed so I had to switch and go on my own,” she said. “Not everything went according to plan today, but luckily it all worked out at the finish.”
Compatriot Marijke Groenewoud crashed midway through the race, mirroring a similar mishap in the semi-final that she recovered from.
“I fell twice today (in the semi-final and final) and that’s something that doesn’t happen so often,” she said.
“The Chinese skaters just came between me and I just slipped away when they pushed me. It was not something I could have prevented from happening,” added Groenewoud, who finished 11th overall.
Blondin took silver and Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida bronze.
“I think I had her (Schouten) actually… I went maybe a little bit too early. I should have been a little bit more patient,” said Blondin, who was part of the Canadian team that won gold in the women’s team pursuit.
“But yeah, it’s the mass so you never know what can happen. And Irene has been so strong this past Olympics and these past two weeks. It’s just an honour for me to be second to her at this point.”
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Krystal Hu; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Andrew Cawthorne)