Column by Pieter van den Hoogenband
Pieter van den Hoogenband writes columns for Dutch newspaper AD on an irregular basis. This is his latest column.
The swimming season only just finished and I’m struck with the flue. It seems as if my body knew the gala in Hamburg (Deutscher Ring Aquatics) was my last competition of the season.
When Rafael van der Vaart (football player) transferred from Ajax to Hamburger SV a year ago, I really didn’t understand that. “If you’re that young and talented, you don’t leave Ajax for a football club in such a dull city”, was my initial reaction. But now I understand his decision. Hamburg is much more fun and wealthier than I thought and is very sport minded. I went to Hamburg in 1993 for the first time. I was invited by the Olympic base in Hamburg for some tests.
As what used to be quite common in the former DDR, they analyzed my swimming capabilities. They gave me a 10 (out of 10). Before that, they had only given Franziska van Almsick the same result. Naturally, I was thrilled with the outcome. The pool where I was tested was situated in a rundown part of town. The outside of the pool was covered in grafitti. It all seemed quite depressing to me. But to be honest with you, I hadn’t made any effort to explore Hamburg at the time. I was there for the tests, so I didn’t see anything besides the pool and my hotel.
This time I had a much better time in Hamburg. It appears to be one of the wealthiest German cities and it shows. They built a beautiful 6-lane pool, especially for this event, in a tennis stadium. In the dressing room I even thought to myself: “Am I going to play tennis or swim?” The organization did everything possible to make this event a success. All 5000-6000 spectators on Saturday and Sunday got their money’s worth.
Because I’m the only reigning Olympic Champion in Europe, the organizing committee paid me a visit last year. They wanted to persuade me to join the event. They also asked me advice about the most suitable date for the event and how they could make the program as appealing as possible.
I advised them to host the event the weekend following the European Championships and pointed out that the shorter distances would be most appealing. The organization prioritized the sport. With Roland Schoeman breaking a world record, this was surely a great success.
There was also a waterpolo demonstration with the boxing Klitsjko brothers and a swimm off with German celebrities as tennis player Michael Stich. It was a remarkable ending of the season. I’m glad the flue struck me only on the Monday after the event.