Wednesday, January 05, 2005

”Three beautiful blond women as a source of inspiration” – By Pieter van den Hoogenband (column for AD)

One of the nicest aspects of the annual NOC*NSF Sportgala is that it’s some kind of reunion. Last week at the Amsterdam RAI I talked to three legendary Olympic champions. Three beautiful blond women who, without knowing it themselves, inspired me one way or the other.

Ada Kok was the first one I bumped into. I have a soft spot for this Olympic champion (butterfly) of 1968. Even when she’s walking around in the Spanish resort of Salou with her two daugthers, people recognize her. No-one remembers how she won the finals in Mexico City and that she beat the runner up by only one tenth of a second. But everyone remembers that she won the gold medal. She truly is an icon of swimming.

I know Ada really well. She managed my interests for years on behalf of Speedo. When I left that sponsor for Nike, we parted ways in good harmony. I have a tremendous respect for her and I love listening to her stories. When you’re sitting down with Ada, be sure to enjoy one anekdote after the other. I’ve always enjoyed her company.

A few steps from her, I ran into Ellen van Langen. I never told her, but she also contributed to my Olympic passion. My dad accompanied the Olympic team as their physician for the first time in 1992. At the 800 metre finals in Barcelona he was sitting close to the finish. He saw how Ellen sneaked in the ‘opening’ that suddenly fell and watched her beat everyone in a devastating final sprint. My dad was one of the Dutch supporters who celebrated her victory right there and then.

I was 14 and I absorbed all of his stories about Ellen and the Olympics of Barcelona. I decided I wanted to be at the Olympics one day. Four years later that dream already came true. However, whatever idea I had of the Olympics, nothing had prepared me for the cold reality of Atlanta. Only at the Olympics of Sydney I enjoyed it the way Ellen had in Barcelona. I kept track of her career and felt for her when she battled injury after injury.

Another few steps further, I came across Marianne Timmer. I once wrote in my column how I admire her dedication and persistance. I had never talked to her, however. When she won two gold medals at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano and also beat a world record, I was 20 years old. I watched her on TV. A beautiful down-to-earth Dutch girl. I almost fell in love with her.

I admire her for staying passionate about her sport despite many setbacks. It’s amazing she won the speed skating sprint world cup last season.

I talked to Ada, Ellen and Marianne within 20 metres from each other. This would only be possible at a unique evening like that. It were three very special encounters with three legendary athletes. Phenomenons who, like all Olympic champions, have gone where no-one has gone before, as Joop Alberda always claims.

Speaking of him… prior to the Sportgala I said goodbye to Joop, who was leaving as technical director of NOC*NSF. Joop has meant a lot to me in the past eight years. That’s why I gave him a nice PSV football shirt with the text: “Joop, thanks for everything”, a big number “1” and “Athens 2004". I hope to run into him - and Ada, Ellen and Marianne – many more times.

Also read other columns by Pieter:

- "During the season, eating is work to me"



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