“During the season, eating is work to me” – By Pieter van den Hoogenband (column for AD)
This month a Japanese swimmer came to visit us. He holds the Asian record at the 100 metre free style and wants to be the first Asian swimmer to beat the 50 second mark. So far his times are always a fraction of a second above that limit. So what do you do? You go and see the Olympic champion.
This Japanese guy wanted to train for a year with me in The Netherlands. But of course that’s just not possible. He was more than pleased with just one week. When my coach Jacco Verhaeren gave his trainer the green light, they immediately flew in from Tokyo. They arrived at Schiphol airport with presents and tears in their eyes, they were so happy to be here.
The Japanese wanted to learn everything from us and the coach scribbled down every little detail. I noticed the swimmer was carrying around a Japanese-Dutch dictionary everywhere he went. When he was introduced to the junior members of our swimming club, he held a small speech in Dutch.
When we were having a beer at the bar after the meeting, his coach kept his eyes on Jacco’s hands the whole time. I wasn’t sure what that was all about. Until I saw he had an ash tray in his hand and jumped forward when Jacco wanted to tip off his cigarette. Of course Jacco thought that was too much of a good thing, so he took the ash tray away from him.
The Japanese trainer came in early every morning to lay out the lanes. Things like this are typical for the Japanese attitude. Discipline and self-sacrifice will get you a long way.
The swimmer really looked up to me as an Olympic champion. Every now and then he dared to ask me a question. And with his cell phone, a futuristic little thing which won’t be available in The Netherlands for a long time yet, he took a picture of the both of us. So that he could show everyone at home that he had met me.
We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. They really had to laugh at what we call Japanese food. They enjoyed it, but they never eat diner at such a big round hot plate back home. That thing was once invented by Japanese immigrants in America.
To me eating is ‘work’ for most of the year. It’s part of my training. As a professional athlete I have to get the proper nutrition. When I don’t like the taste of it, I just gobble it down.
So I really enjoy it when I can have a nice meal, like recently. A friend of my girlfriend invited us for dinner at the Beluga restaurant in Maastricht. I travel all over the world, but I never had such a great dinner as in this restaurant.
Chef Hans van Wolde is originally from Rotterdam and came to Maastricht about 12 years ago to start his own restaurant. Not without success, because on the ranking list of best Dutch restaurants, his place came in second. If it were up to me, he’d be number one.
I can really enjoy a large serving of French fries and two frikandels (= Dutch snack), but the unique meal Van Wolde prepared for us was an absolute highlight. The ultimate meal for the connoisseur. Everything was perfect. It was also great to see on a screen how the food was prepared in the marvellous, clean kitchen.
Too bad our Japanese friends went home already, otherwise I would have been able to show them that The Netherlands also has culinary ‘champions’.
Also read other columns by Pieter:
- "Three beautiful blond women as a source of inspiration"