January 07, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) Ireen Wust won her fifth European all-around title in dominating style on Saturday, proving the Dutch veteran should still be a formidable force at next year's Winter Games.

Wust won the first three of four races and already held a huge lead going into the closing 5,000 meters, where she skated a controlled race behind Czech Martina Sablikova, who won the distance and finished second overall.

Wust, 30, won her first Olympic gold at the 2006 Turin Games and added more titles in Vancouver and three years ago at the Sochi Games.

Her fifth European title matched the total of Sablikova with the two poised to renew their Olympic rivalry in Pyongchang, South Korea, when only individual distance titles are at stake.

On an all-Dutch Saturday at the raucous Thialf hall in Heerenveen in the north of the Netherlands, Kai Verbij took the inaugural European sprint title, ahead of compatriot Kjell Nuis and Germany Nico Ihle.

By that time, Wust had already finished celebrating. When she won her first Olympic title in Turin, she was still a teenager. On Saturday, she was already waving a banner of ''Auntie Ireen.'' More importantly, the banner also said ''Topper - Tops,'' a feeling she had been chasing since she crashed off her bike and onto her head in 2015.

''I am closing in fast on my old form and level,'' Wust said. That form was good enough for two gold medals and three silvers at the 2014 Sochi Games, where she was one of the most successful athletes. And she wants more next year.

''It gives me confidence for the games next year,'' she said.

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