Friday, January 07, 2005

Van den Hoogenband is still savouring his victory

For four years, Pieter van den Hoogenband chased his Olympic dream. At the crucial moment, he succeeded in becoming the fastest swimmer in the world. In Athens he once again became the olympic champion at the major swimming event: the 100 metre free style. But that’s not the end of it. The real preparation for the world championship this summer in Montreal starts end of January. After the Olympics he kicked back and enjoyed every minute savouring his success.

Enjoying his success was Van den Hoogenband’s first priority after Athens. “Every day people still come up to me and congratulate me. That’s really great. As an athlete, you can only perform a limited number of years at this level. If you are successful, you should really enjoy that.” This month he will leave with his girlfriend Minouche and her parents for a vacation in South Africa before he resumes his training. In the wildlife parks of Africa he will surely reminisce those exciting couple of weeks in Athens. After his two gold medals at the Games in Sydney, he never won an international tournament again. Yet he wasn’t surprised he won the gold again in Greece at the 100 metre free style. “I was really confident. That’s why I announced before the Games that I would continue my swimming career, no matter what would happen in Athens. I still enjoyed it and I felt fit and strong. Everything was going fine.”

Gerard Kleisterlee, executive at Philips, reassured him just before the Olympics. “He called me before the Games and said: “We will continue sponsoring you.” Van den Hoogenband knew he was still the fastest swimmer in the world, despite his silver 'defeats' at the World Championships of 2001 and 2003. "I was the first male swimmer to ever swim the 100 metre free style faster than 48 seconds. I stayed the only one. Also, as from 1998 I ranked number one for one or more events. Numbers don’t lie, indeed. So I knew I had a good shot at the title.” And he had. After an astonishing race against Roland Schoeman from South Africa, Van den Hoogenband won the title by a split second. “It’s so hard to defend your title” he says. “I’m the only Dutch male swimmer who ever succeeded at doing that at such a major event. This was the ultimate moment. There are the Olympics, then there’s nothing for a long time, and then there are the World and European championships. It’s as simple as that.” In Beijing Van den Hoogenband could become the first swimmer ever to have won the gold medal at the 100 metre free style event three times in a row. The Olympics of 2008 will be his final destination. It wasn’t an option to finish his career sooner. “After my first Olympics in Atlanta, I quit for a year because of school. I also thought I was missing out on a lot of things. Well, it was nice for a while, but it just wasn't my life. I love sports and my sport is swimming. This is my life. I enjoy focussing on something, busting my ass off.”

Pieter van den Hoogenband’s drive is to push boundaries. He is confident he can beat his own world record, which he set in Sydney: 47.84 seconds. Up to now, no-one, except himself in 2002 (47.86), has even come close. “In Sydney I didn’t swim the most ideal race”, he claims. “I can go faster. I will study Schoeman’s start in Athens. He took off at an amazing speed. I have to find out how I can go faster.” His world record will be beat. “For sure! I don’t know when, but it will be beat. So I’d better do that myself first.” Perhaps this summer at the world championship in Montreal. Van den Hoogenband will then attempt to win his first world title. "So far I haven't performed as well as I could have at a world championship. But it’s not an obsession to win the world title", he assures.

Van den Hoogenband will definitely continue working with his trainer Jacco Verhaeren. “It’s unthinkable we would ever separate”, says Van den Hoogenband. “I learned a lot from all of my past trainers, but Jacco is the ideal trainer for me. He gave me the last push to the absolute international top. We started this together and we will finish it together.” Eventhough Verhaeren and Van den Hoogenband considered last year to train in Australia for a while, they have now postponed this. “Perhaps in 2007, six months prior to the World Championship in Melbourne, we will go there. That’s not a problem for me, I’d adapt. But for now I’m not going anywhere.”

Source: Brabants Dagblad and Zwemkroniek Online

Also read other interviews with Pieter van den Hoogenband:

- King of the swimming pool once again

- Pieter van den Hoogenband is not satisfied yet


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