Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"No carnaval in Épinal" - Column by Pieter van den Hoogenband

I completely missed out on carnaval this year. During this festival I went on training camp in France with a group of swimmers from Eindhoven, so in Épinal none of us could be tempted to join the festivities. Too much alcohol is not good for a top athlete anyway, but it’s even a greater risk to catch a cold when you’re coming out of a pub and are sweating.

No, it’s better to train three times a day under ideal circumstances. Here in Épinal, which is about 4 and a half hours from Eindhoven by car, there are no distractions at all. I don’t want to make it sound as if the facilities in The Netherlands are not good enough, but it’s kind of distracting when they are preparing the pool during your training session for a “Sports & Games theme day”.

For this event they put small boats, rope ladders and other toys in the water. I’ve grown used to that by now, though. Some Australian and Chinese scientists who visited us to learn more about my training methods, were somewhat puzzled by it. They thought it was my secret weapon, or something.

Back home, I sometimes can’t finish my training session. Here in Épinal it’s not a problem to extend the session if I want to do that. We can do extra things, like another start or turning point. We are filming everything, so I can see what I'm doing right or wrong. That takes time and it’s wonderful when you're not rushed.

That luxury is much more important than staying in a five star hotel. I live a very simple life at training camp: training, physical therapy, eating, sleeping... We're staying in a hotel at a business park. The French are proud to have us here, they keep spoiling us. They gave me the nicest room of the hotel. That means it’s a room which is one metre bigger than the other rooms.

This week a French swim magazine is going to interview me. They’ve reserved ten pages for that. I’m wondering how on earth they are going to fill those? I’ll do my best, but I have no idea what to tell them. I can have a conversation in French, but I sometimes wish I had put more effort into languages at school instead of subjects like math, chemistry and physics. The French really appreciate it when you try to speak their language and I don’t want to disappoint them.

The funny thing is that the French find it quite difficult to pronounce my name. When my coach Jacco Verhaeren was talking to some French people, there was one word he couldn’t understand. He thought they were talking about some kind of scary disease. But they were pronouncing my name, as it seemed… “Vé Dé Asj”, or “VDH”.

No matter what they call me, I feel at home amongst the French. We will come to France for training camps many more times in the next few years. I gladly give up the carnaval festival for that. I’m not a big fan of that anyway. When we were still living in Maastricht, there was no escaping from it. I remember an old picture of my parents with their friends dressed up as bears. And yes, I’m on that picture in a bear suit as well. In a buggy, which my parents thought was a great way to transport a crate of beer…

Source: AD, 24 February 2005


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