Geisje.EM_.MarloesKeetels.04

Marloes Keetels' student house

This quiet student is the captain of the Dutch women’s hockey team

“Seventy-five percent elite field hockey player, twenty-five percent student.” This…

“If you want to see me, it will have to be before 13 December. After that, it’ll have to wait until March.” Friends and family of the international hockey player are all too familiar with this ‘threat’. Arranging things with Keetels (26) involves a lot of advance planning. After winning the European title, the Dutch women’s hockey team immediately qualified last summer for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

As well as being a nice prospect, it also means a really busy schedule. “I have three weeks free in December, but after that I’ll be travelling with the Dutch team until March. Then I have maybe 10 free days in May, but that’s it. Friends always smile at this, because I’ve known for almost a year in advance what I’ll be doing in July 2020.”

A quick look at her weekly schedule until Tokyo and it becomes clear that a diary is not an unnecessary luxury for Keetels. There are a lot of fixtures in addition to the two months with the Dutch team. “Our Olympic journey started in early September. That means getting together on Mondays with the Dutch team for power training and meetings. We train again on Tuesday mornings with the Dutch team, after which I drive to my own club in the afternoon. In the first month we were allowed home after the Monday training session, but now we sleep at Papendal. On Wednesdays I do my own power training, for instance at the university. On Thursdays I train twice at the club and once on Fridays. I’m free on Saturdays, and on Sundays there’s a match. That continues until May, and then I’m away with the Dutch team to Tokyo.”

Gruelling schedule

To clarify: Keetels (26) is delighted that the Dutch team has qualified for the Games. As soon as the topic comes up, a huge smile appears on her face. “Yes, as sportsperson, that’s what you do it for. It’s the best that there is. I’m amazed at how it has affected me. That’s why Papendal is so great. When you’re there it starts to feel real. When you’re training together in the rain in Utrecht on a cold Tuesday morning, it’s harder to feel that.”

Although an outsider may consider her schedule gruelling, for the hockey player it’s ‘reasonably normal’. “Well, it’s reasonably normal because in such a year, your world focuses even more on just hockey. I’ve stopped my master’s degree in Business Administration for a year, so the people I see most are my team members, and they have the same schedule.” Stopping her studies was a conscious, but unavoidable choice. “I need to write a thesis and still need to do an elective. That’s not going to happen this year. It’s a pity, because I really enjoy studying and it’s a nice distraction.”

As a seasoned player, she knows better than anyone what she’ll be up against in the coming year. Keetels joined the Dutch team for the first time in September 2011. The Games in London were too early for her (‘I was then nowhere near good enough’), but since then, the player from Den Bosch has been a permanent fixture. “In the year prior to the Rio Games, I only needed to do two courses for my bachelor’s degree, so I didn’t stop studying. Studying is also a really fun, cognitive stimulant. It’s fantastic to reset your thoughts, but there needs to be a balance; you can’t do everything. I’m also getting older. Two hours of typing and then training isn’t always possible anymore. For example, I need to visit the physio more often for treatment these days.”

Times ten

Talking about the Rio de Janeiro Games also means talking about the most painful moment of Keetels’ career. Because however fantastic the memories are and whatever great feelings she has for the event, the final, four years ago, is still painful. After the semi-finals in which arch-rival Germany was defeated following shoot-outs (the hockey version of penalties in football), the team lost in the final, again following shoot-outs, against outsider Great Britain. “I’m reminded of this constantly, now also by you. That’s entirely logical, but it’s also painful. It could so easily have been a gold.”

Marloes Keetels en Maaike Head olympische spelen Rio
Maaike Head (r) en hockeyster Marloes Keetels met hun olympische medailles.

“Looking back, I’d have preferred having no chance and losing 5-0. Then it would have been silver and no problem. Now it feels as though we gave it away. I really, really wanted that gold medal then, but now it’s times ten.” It’s not only already having a silver medal that’s making this Olympic cycle different from the last. Her status within the team has also changed. Four years ago she had to fight hard for her position in the selection, but she’s now one of the mainstays. “If I’m fit (while knocking on the wooden table) and I perform at my level, then I’ll be going with the team. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way; it’s just the way it is.”

According to Keetels, that difference has meant that her Olympic journey has started with a totally different feeling. “The preparations for Rio were really tense in that respect. The whole year you’re wondering whether you’re doing well enough. But now if I perform badly at a training session, it’s not a problem. Four years ago I felt I needed to do extra well in the next training session. You have the idea that you’re being assessed the entire time. That feeling doesn’t go away until you’ve been selected. I don’t have that now. I want to be there or I want to be at my best. It sounds the same, but there’s an important nuance in there. For Tokyo 2020 I want to be at my best.”

Relieved

The coming months are all about staying fit and improving gradually for the summer. “Now I know: you basically need to improve your performance and peak at the right times. Like everyone, I need to maintain my performance – I certainly can’t rest on my laurels.” She’ll not have the opportunity to do that either with her schedule for the coming months. As well as the interlands with the Dutch team, there are the European matches and the national championships competition with her own club. “So it’s not that I’m constantly thinking about Tokyo. I have a match every Sunday, and in between times there are more than enough matches with the Dutch team.”

“But of course, when I think of shoot-outs and the Olympic Games, it’s still nerve-racking. But it’s also still a long way off. The most stressful thing at the moment is staying fit. I’ve had problems with my fitness in recent years. Ankle operation, bad back, Achilles heel problems. So I’ll be happy and relieved once I’ve arrived in Tokyo fit and fresh. That’s what I think about a lot: how can I make sure that I’m at my best there? Because I really want that gold medal now.”

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