Vanessa Herzog, world champion speed skater and YOG athlete role model

Vanessa Herzog is currently making a name for herself in Austrian women’s speed skating. Her results, especially in her favourite distance, the 500m, are unprecedented in the history of her country, which named her athlete of the year 2019. Helped in her career by her role model, German Olympic champion Anni Friesinger, she is impatient to play this role herself for the Lausanne 2020 athletes, even though she is only 24.

Picture by Getty Images

Vanessa Bittner was born on 4 July 1995 in the Olympic city of Innsbruck, and married her coach, Thomas Herzog, in 2016. She is currently Austria’s best speed skater, holding the national records in the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m. And she has been making a name for herself internationally since 2018: European 500m champion last year in Kolomna (Russia) and sprint champion this year in Collalbo (Italy) with an outdoor world record (37.61); winner of four World Cup events and the World Cup ranking for this distance; and world 500m champion on 8 February this year in Inzell (Germany), and silver medallist in the 1,000m.

Vanessa Herzog
Picture by Getty Images

Her 500m title is the first World Championship win in Austrian history over this distance, and only the second after Emese Nemeth-Hunyady in 1999 (1,500m). And three years from now in Beijing, she could well join her in terms of Olympic achievements (Nemeth-Hunyady won the gold medal in the 1,500m at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer)! In addition, Herzog is an eight-time European roller speed skating champion, and the first Austrian athlete to win a gold medal at the roller speed skating World Championships, in Arnhem (the Netherlands) in October 2018! Voted female athlete of 2019 in Austria, at 24 she is one of the Athlete Role Models for the YOG Lausanne 2020, and here she answers our questions.

Tell us about your Olympic experience.

My first Games were in Sochi, and I was 18. That’s what really launched my career. It was good to have this first experience. I competed in the 500m and 1,000m, and I was the only Austrian in this sport. Four years later, I was competing in PyeongChang. By then, I knew what was involved, what a big event it was, how much media pressure there was, etc. And my results were much better: fourth in the 500m, and fifth in the 1,000m. I loved taking part in the Games, they were really special! You train like mad for four years to show the best you can do, and you get to meet athletes from all sports, not just speed skating!

Vanessa Herzog
Picture by Getty Images

What are your objectives?

I’ve been doing this sport for 20 years now. Speed skating is cool because you move fast, and the pressure you feel on the bends is huge. I love that. My main aims now are to stay fit and avoid getting injured. I want to stay at the level I’ve reached now, so that I can get as much pleasure as possible out of it. And my main career goal is obviously an Olympic medal!

What does it mean for you to be an Athlete Role Model at the YOG?

It’s an honour. The first Winter YOG were in my home city of Innsbruck. I really loved the atmosphere with the young athletes. I’m looking forward to being able to share their experience with them at Lausanne 2020. I’ll tell them to enjoy what they are doing, stay focused and train hard, and pursue their dreams!

How do you plan to spend your time at Lausanne 2020?

I’ll be with the athletes at the speed skating competitions, and I plan on training with them as well. It’s important for me to be able to share my experience. When I was younger, I had a role model, the German three-time Olympic skating champion Anni Friesinger. She taught me so much! And today, we’re best friends! I think it’s important for the athletes at the YOG to have someone to follow them and give them some useful advice. 

What is your sports programme this winter?

This season, we have the World Championships in Salt Lake City in February, and I intend to defend my title in the 500m, my favourite distance. Plus of course maintain my level throughout the season!


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