- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Carien Kleibeuker’s eyes widened and she chuckled upon hearing herself introduced as the Olympic bronze medalist who is 35 years and 344 days old.

She’ll be remembered as more than just the oldest female speedskater to represent the Netherlands at the Winter Games. Kleibeuker helped extend the Dutch domination at the Adler Arena oval, earning her first Olympic medal Wednesday in the 3,000 meters.

“It’s unbelievable to win a medal here in front of my family,” she said. “I’ve worked really, really hard for this. This wasn’t my best race, and of course at the Olympic Games you hope to skate your best race, but luckily it was enough to win bronze.”

She stepped away from skating to have a child, but returned to the ice better than ever.

“I do this sport for fun,” she said, “and when I got this opportunity the drive became more and more, and it’s just great to win a medal.”

Kleibeuker was 10th in the 5,000 at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She didn’t compete four years ago in Vancouver, having already given birth to her daughter Annemijn.

A Dutch coach grabbed the 5-year-old girl and ran from the stands onto the infield so the child could watch the flower presentation. Wearing an orange coat and pants, little blond Annemijn crouched down and looked on as her mother smiled broadly and held up her bouquet.

After the medalists walked to one end of the oval to pose for pictures, Kleibeuker scooped up her daughter for a hug. The girl then rode piggyback on her mom as they walked away, having been reunited after two weeks away from each other.

“It’s been very difficult for me, but in the end it was worth it,” she said. “She said to me after the race, ‘You thought you had no medal, but you did.’”

Kleibeuker sometimes feels torn between her love of skating and her family, noting the sport takes a lot of their time and patience.

“There’s a big drive inside to do the best and get the best out of my body,” she said. “They know that is my passion.”

She credited her husband Robert for helping her juggle motherhood and skating.

“I’m good at planning,” she said. “You have to be flexible and I am and my husband is.”