It’s well past midnight at the Cabido Bar hidden in the hills of Coimbra and the waiter has dropped off yet another plate of mojitos at a booth where the RSTV tennis teams are playing cards. Although both the men and women have a match the following day, those matches don’t count for much anymore; both teams were knocked out of the running for a medal a couple of days before and are simply playing for pride at this point. Surely, they would have loved to be in a position to battle for a spot in the top three but enjoying this charming city at their own pace isn’t such a bad consolation. Mick Rooth of the men’s team had predicted it might end up this way during the opening ceremony.
RSTV Passing Shot
“We drew the University of Innsbruck for our first match, the team we beat in the final two years ago,” said Rooth. “So either we win this match and go on to win the whole tournament, or we lose and wind up playing the loser’s tournament for 9th place.
The latter half of his prediction came true. Two quick losses in a best-of-three series versus the Austrians meant a place on the podium was no longer possible for RSTV men (Innsbruck would waltz into 1st place later in the week). As the Austrians were wrapping the match with the Rotterdammers, the women were just getting started with what would become a marathon of a match versus a duo from University of Sevilla. It would take over 7 and a half hours of tennis before Lizette Blankers and Yvette Vlaar would emerge victorious.
“It’s really an incredible feeling when you’re the only ones on the tennis court at half past ten at night and the whole crowd is on the bleachers cheering as if it were a football match,” Blankers reflected. “The atmosphere was amazing and naturally, it’s even more amazing because we ended up winning.”
Celebrations had to be put on hold on account of the next round beginning the following day. Worn out and fatigued, Blankers and Vlaar were quickly swept away by a pair of players from the University of Stirling. Their exit from the tournament signaled a transition from professional athlete mode to full-on vacation mode, and from then on you could see the RSTV tennis players [Passing Shots] around the city at night. And then there were the rowers.
For the lone Skadi rowing crew in Coimbra, competing in the EUG meant a couple-week extension to their rigorous fitness and diet regime, which involves eating as little as possible, especially salty things. Resisting the Portuguese delicacies around them is all part of an effort to stay below 72.5 kg, the maximum weight a rower can have when competing in the men’s rowing lightweight race. In other words, competing in the EUG isn’t as much of a vacation as it is for the tennis players.
“It’s a bit double-sided being here because on the one hand we’re here in Portugal but on the other we’re seeing everyone live it up without a care and we’re just standing here eating a half a sandwich,” said Ruben Loef, who rows from the bow of the boat. “We didn’t even go to the opening ceremony because it was at 11 PM and we need to rest.”
Skadi arrived in Coimbra on the first Saturday of the games, but they had to resist all temptations until Wednesday. On that day the race took place, an intense six-minute dash across 2 km of water. The result? The Rotterdammers finished 5th by six seconds.
“When you drop your blades after you win a race, you don’t feel the stinging pain from all that rowing,” said Yannick Ter Heerdt following the race. “But when you lose, you feel the pain even worse.”
By the time the rowers were loading up their boats about an hour after the race, the stinging pain of losing seemed to have worn off. At the least for the Skadi lads that is. While the rowers from Delft beside them were staring at the ground in silence following their fourth-place, Skadi’s quartet of rowers were nonchalantly chatting about how much they enjoyed the saltiness of the chips they were eating.
“I’m quite happy it’s all over,” Ter Heerdt said. “Now we get to eat…a lot.”
One of the curious and amusing themes of the EUG thus far has been watching athletes from different Dutch universities interact with each other. Whereas they usually compete against one another in the Netherlands, here in Portugal they’re all part of one big Dutch delegation.
“You actually do feel like a part of the Dutch umbrella here,” said Ten Heerdt. “You get to talk to rowers who you wouldn’t typically be friends with in Holland because they’re part of a rival rowing club. We chilled with some guys from Argo [Wageningen] and found out that they’re really nice guys.”
Even in terms of intraDutch interactions, the tennis team differed from the rowing crew. A glorious example of this happened when RSTV member Ziyed Badreddine met the table tennis team from the University of Twente.
“You play table tennis?” Badreddine asked. “I thought that’s just a game you play in the bar.”