The Dutch speed skating federation said its Olympic short track skaters will have panther-themed hearts on uniform sleeves to honor 2018 Olympic medalist and world champion Lara van Ruijven, who died in 2020.
The federation said it received special permission from the International Skating Union (ISU) and the IOC for the extra uniform patch.
Van Ruijven died following complications from an autoimmune disorder on July 10, 2020. She was 27.
Van Ruijven skated with eyewear and the back of her helmet decorated in a panther-skin theme. Her teammates called her “Panther Lara,” according to Dutch media.
She earned bronze at the PyeongChang Olympics as part of the Dutch women’s 3000m relay.
At the 2019 Worlds, van Ruijven led the 500m nearly from start to finish. Italian Martina Valcepina caught her and made contact with van Ruijven as they crossed the finish line. That caused van Ruijven to fall as Valcepina outleaned her by half a skate blade. Upon video review, Valcepina was disqualified two minutes later for an arm block.
Van Ruijven became the first Dutch woman to win a world short track title (not counting the 3000m super final).
“My dream came true and I can’t believe it, I have to cry,” van Ruijven said that day, according to the International Skating Union.
The world’s top short track skater is Dutch star Suzanne Schulting. Last season, she won all five events at the world championships, including the 500m. Before that sprint final, van Ruijven’s last race was shown on big screens inside the arena in the Netherlands, according to the ISU.
“The first thing I thought about really was Lara,” Schulting said after her win, according to an ISU translation.
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