With Lara van Ruijven, the Dutch short track loses the first Dutch world champion ever. The modest 27-year-old Westland died xxx in a French hospital from an autoimmune disease.
In fact, Van Ruijven's best years were yet to come. The top sports career of the born Naaldwijkse, who also excelled in hockey, really got going relatively late. She moved to Friesland at the age of seventeen because of her talent and eventually ended up under the wings of national coach Jeroen Otter.
After initially she mainly won prizes internationally under his leadership with the relay team (together with Suzanne Schulting, Yara van Kerkhof and Rianne de Vries, among others), the first individual successes came only in 2016. In that year she finished second at the European Championship in Sochi in the 500 meters.
However, a major breakthrough failed to materialize, partly because she struggled with pain and her technique in the years that followed. During that period she also went back to her law studies, which she wanted to get full work after her career.
Only two years later Van Ruijven managed to win a medal at the World Cup, to her own relief. In addition, she took bronze on the relay with the Dutch team at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Lara van Ruijven (right) with Suzanne Schulting after the Olympic bronze in 2018. (Photo: Getty Images)
'I don't do it before becoming a leader'
The lack of individual success meant that the media's attention was mainly focused on her teammate Schulting, a role that she had little difficulty with. "That's just the case, I can't change that," she told NU.nl last year. "She has become Olympic champion, I do not. I do not do that to become the leader. That is a nice side effect, but it also brings more pressure."
It suits her humble nature. According to her brother Olav, his sister never had to be the center of attention, he told AD earlier this year . "I give her the spotlight that does justice to her achievements and to her person. She is very modest."
Nevertheless, Van Ruijven suddenly stood in the spotlight on 9 March last year. That day she became the first Dutch short track star ever to become an individual world champion by winning the 500 meters in Sofia. Although she came in second, but due to a penalty from the Italian Martina Valcepina, the gold went to Van Ruijven.
"My dream came true, I am so happy", she exulted immediately after the finish at the NOS . The fact that she crossed the line and therefore did not have the opportunity to raise her arms in the air shouldn't spoil the fun. "That is a pity, but this is very nice."
She had wanted to defend that title in Seoul last March, but that tournament was postponed by a year due to the corona crisis. Her terrible illness meant that it would stay with that one world title.