Three times gold and one bronze at the Winter Olympics, world all-round champion and, as icing on the cake, Sportswoman of the Year. The ‘golden year’ of 2022 turns Irene Schouten’s life completely upside down. “The Olympic Games changed everything for me,” says Schouten.
“I came home and it was immediately very busy,” says Schouten, who must immediately appear at the ceremony in the Netherlands after landing at Schiphol. With four medals around her neck, her hair still tousled and bags under her eyes, the queen of the Winter Olympics was on Dutch soil.
“I thought it would be part of it for a while and that it would be quieter a month later. It still isn’t. My life has completely changed. At first I was just an athlete and now I am more of a figurehead, a brand and a BN’er.”
After a few days, the honoring of Schouten in Wervershoof awaits. “So many people came to see it, I could only dream of it,” says the top athlete. The square in front of the old town hall in Hoogkarspel is full of fans and Schouten is driven through the village in an open car.
There were countless people along the road wanting to catch a glimpse of her. “I just had problems with my jaw from all the laughing, haha. In everyday life I am now often approached in the supermarket, or people want to take a picture with me. I like that. If I’m in a hurry and I have to go shopping, sometimes I try to cut it down a bit.”
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In addition to all the sporting success, Schouten also personally celebrates successes. In the summer she marries Dirkjan Mak. “That was a dream come true. We arranged and thought up everything ourselves. It was a very nice party, a fairy tale actually. I will never forget that. Because I am now a bit more in the picture, that is also the case with him. Dirkjan is also on social media, but I say that he has to be careful with what it posts. When he is in Thialf, he is portrayed. So he suddenly has to take that into account. “
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It soon becomes clear to her that Schouten can no longer go through life anonymously. But the fact that she also suddenly has to answer to supporters is new. For example, the decision not to participate in the NK all-round does not go down well with her fans. “If I had decided that two years ago, nothing would have happened. Now I really have to answer for myself.”
She apologizes on Instagram that the competition in Thialf does not fit into her schedule. “That was my sister’s idea. She said people come especially for me, so she thought I should indicate that I don’t drive. It wasn’t an issue for me, but others pointed it out to me. I still don’t have that myself realize.”
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Everything that the Sportswoman of the Year says now is also under a magnifying glass. “Sometimes I find that special. Of course I speak a little West Frisian and sometimes that is misunderstood. That fragment is so enlarged on the internet. It has made me more careful with what I say.”
Riot at the Games
At the Olympic Games, Schouten experiences for the first time how great the impact of her words can be. In a documentary about her team, she discusses the situation in the team pursuit. “The interviewer asked, ‘Do you think the team pursuit will be okay?’ I said, “It depends on who they use.” I purely think: if the national coach does not use me, it will not work.”
“I’ve become more careful about what I say”
It is suggested that Schouten would rather not ride together with fellow skater Ireen Wüst. “When I watched that episode, I thought that Ireen was not portrayed very well. I had not said anything wrong for the rest. I then went off social media for a while, because I knew that the pressure was so great and that the newspapers of would write everything. I then got annoying questions and had to defend myself every time, while I was preparing for the 3,000 meters. And the crazy thing is that before the Games Irene and I often trained together. We wanted to go for it together. She knew so I didn’t think that way.”
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Schouten eventually takes bronze with the team pursuit. The moment does make her think about how her words can reach the audience. “I found social media and media difficult this year anyway. Some negative stories have sometimes been written. Whether it’s about me, my trainers or skating. I sometimes find the media quite difficult. But sometimes you also need them .”
Just a break
After the Olympic Games, a new era is dawning for Schouten. The increasing pressure of having to perform, the body that reacts differently when success is behind us and the motivation. These are all factors that make the year after the Olympic Games difficult.
“There is also almost no Olympic champion who rides super the following year. A lot of athletes take a year off. And I thought: I’m going to prove the opposite. I understand that people take a break, because so much is coming at you “I didn’t think about stopping, but I did think about resting. I really like skating. I want to continue and improve myself. I’ve noticed that I’m a bit better than last year.”
“I didn’t think about stopping, but I did think about resting for a while”
Last week Schouten rode the World Cup race in Calgary, Canada. Although she shows some of her top form there, traveling does break her a bit. “I was on the road from Calgary for 24 hours. I don’t like that at all, then you spend hours hanging around an airport and then you immediately get into the hustle and bustle. to have a break.”
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