Most students are counting down the days before they can go on holiday, but this isn’t the case with Larissa Meijer, Marloes Keetels and Seve van Ass. For these hockey players, the summer of 2016 will be all about the Olympics.
On Tuesday afternoon, Meijer, Keetels and Van Ass paid a last visit to campus. Erasmus Sport had organised a ‘farewell party’ with lunch and a brief speech by EUR Executive Board member Bart Straatman.
Since 1992, Erasmus University Rotterdam has been supporting high-performing athletes within the Erasmus Topsport programme. University-appointed sport coordinators help world-class athletes who are also enrolled in a degree programme to combine sports and study.
“I want to see more than just hockey fields.”
Combining sports and studies works out just fine for the three hockey players. Still, there’s always a clear divide between student life and top-level sports. “Actually, I like the fact that on the one hand, I’m always busy with hockey; and on the other, on campus I work together with students who wouldn’t even know how to hold a stick,” says a smiling Keetels. Van Ass: “I want to see more than just hockey fields. That’s why I decided to study. Indeed, you could say it’s part of the ‘hockey culture’ – taking care to develop yourself in other areas than just the sport.”
It’s hard work, and they can forget about going out on the town all night. But they don’t mind. Keetels: “When you’re working to make a dream come true, this means passing up on some things. Besides: celebrating a championship is more fun anyway,” she says with a smile. “As it is, I’m far too tired to make a night of it when I get home from training. You’d have to pay me to go out.”
“You’d have to pay me to go out after training.”
It is not entirely certain whether Keetels and Meijer will be representing the Netherlands in Rio. The final selection will only be announced next week. For Meijer in particular, this will be quite a tense week. “They’ve more or less decided who will be goalkeeper in the starting line-up. I’m still in the running for reserve goalkeeper, but so is one of my teammates. We’re basically tied, so I’m still on tenterhooks until Wednesday.” Keetels is not entirely sure whether she’ll make the cut either, but believes she runs a good chance of ending up in the selection.
Van Ass already heard earlier that he will be allowed to play for the Dutch team. “I was sitting at home with my girlfriend, waiting for my coach’s call. While our talk only lasted a few seconds, it’s an all-or-nothing deal. Four years ago, I was told that I was just short of making the selection.” But this time round, it was a different story: “I picked up and my coach said ‘congratulations, you’re through.’ My girlfriend could tell by the expression on my face that I had been selected – there’s no way I could hide my smile, of course.”
The Olympic dream
In the case of all three students, competing in the Olympics wasn’t a dream they had held since childhood. “I really got into this sport by chance,” says Keetels. “I started when I was 6 or 7. My cousin and my brother played hockey, and I wanted to as well. I played in Schijndel, and when I was 11, I went to Den Bosch to join a club there. A few years later, I was playing for the under-16s, then the under-18s, and now I’m here. I simply enjoyed playing hockey – it was only around the age of 16 that I realised that I was actually quite good at it, after which I started really making an effort to break through in this sport.” Meijer can identify with this. “I started playing hockey when I was 8, simply because it seemed fun. At the time, I didn’t really dream of becoming a professional hockey player one day. But along the way, you start developing bigger dreams. First of winning the national championship, then the European championship – and now, gold at the Summer Olympics.”
“When I was a kid, I didn’t really dream of becoming a professional hockey player.”
Van Ass dreamt of Olympic glory every now and then. “As a young boy, I loved watching hockey matches on the telly. But as a teenager, there was also a period when I preferred to go out and drink.” This all changed when Van Ass heard at the age of 20 that he had come just short of making the selection for the 2012 Olympics. “I remember thinking what a fool I had been to not make an all-out effort. Since then, I have been working very hard to make the cut this time round – with success.” But this is no time for Van Ass to rest on his laurels. “It’s not enough to simply go to Rio. I have to put in a strong performance there, make my mark during the matches and – naturally – bring home the gold.”