part of special

On the way to Tokyo 2020

Students Amber Meulenbeld, Marloes Keetels, Malou Pheninckx and Marieke Keijser have…

On the way to Tokyo 2020. That was the title of the EM series following the five EUR students heading for the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year. Although we only need to change the date to breathe new life into the series, the past year can best be compared to a rollercoaster ride in the dark for the athletes. They can now see the final destination again, but how they’ll arrive there is still a mystery. There’s not much time to dwell on this uncertainty, though, because the next twist is approaching and there are immediate expectations of top-level performance. How do you handle this as athlete, while everything is so different than it used to be?

Marloes Keetels - Is again training hard with her club and the Dutch hockey team

marloes keetels hockey nederlands team foto koen suyk
Marloes Keetels in the final match versus British team in the Olympic Hockey Center, during the Olympic Games in Rio. Image credit: Koen Suyk

“That’s allowed, that isn’t. One and a half metres, with two on the pitch, four on the pitch, doing laps of the park alone really early in the morning. I wouldn’t know anymore what exactly happened when. All the uncertainty makes it difficult to look further ahead than a few weeks, because everything could be completely different again then.”

“And yet, the Olympics are still a faraway dot on the horizon. It feels further away than ever, but you’re still busy with it the entire time. Getting better, getting fitter, preparing for what’s to come. That hasn’t changed. Of course, this coming summer is approaching fast, so I think about it a lot, but the uncertainty makes it feel really weird. I also shut myself off from all the scenarios you keep seeing on NOS news reports or reading in AD newspaper about potential postponement of the Olympics. I’m just assuming that they’ll go ahead; doing nothing isn’t an option. But I do really understand all the uncertainty and anxiety people in Japan have.”

marloes keetels hockey nederlands team foto koen suyk

Read about last year

On the road to Tokyo: hockey player Marloes Keetels now really wants that gold medal

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“We’ve been training with the national team again since last summer and were able to start training together at the club in December. And, of course, lots of things are different. We are tested regularly, we only eat with a few team members at a time and at one and a half metres from each other and, of course, we often wear face masks. But for the rest, our schedule is similar to last year. Mondays and Tuesdays with the Dutch team, the rest with the club. The competition starts up again at the end of January too.”

“All the developments have meant that I’ve been able to focus more on my studies. I’ve completed my final course and I’ve even started my thesis. I may even graduate before the Olympics start, which is something I never could have imagined a year ago.”

Malou Pheninckx - Starts playing league matches again at the end of this month, like Marloes

Malou Pheninckx with Zhang Xiaoxue (China) during a Pro League hockey match against China. Image credit: Koen Suyk

“My flexibility has been tested more than ever in recent months. The lack of clarity and uncertainty were not always easy, but strangely enough I got used to it all rather quickly. Whether we were doing team meetings via Zoom or online workouts with the team, in the end it all felt normal. Of course, we were and continue to be really careful, but the aim is to stay in top condition.”

“It was really crazy that something you’ve looked forward to for so long and that kept getting closer was suddenly really far off in the distance. But the way things are looking now, we will be able to go to Tokyo this summer after all, which I’m particularly happy about. I want to go to the Olympics so much that I quickly accepted the postponement that year.”


Read about last year

The road to Tokyo: will Malou Pheninckx be on the national hockey team or not?

EM is following five students in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Part 3: medical…

“I’d stopped studying Medicine at the start of the Olympic process because I needed to start my residency, so when things quietened down, I couldn’t just restart that. I found that hard because I would have liked to have helped at the hospital. The voluntary work I did in the nursing home stopped as well. I felt a bit powerless every now and then.”

“Of course, we’re in a unique position with the Dutch team. I see lots of people around me who are not allowed to do very much, but for us, apart from all the measures, it looks a lot like last year. We sometimes sleep at Papendal and are also training at the club again. It’s also becoming busier with matches because we need to catch up on both club and Dutch team matches. Now that the leagues are starting, I think it’s really great to look at where we are as a team. I’m quite nervous to see what a real match will be like. It’s been a long time since the last one.”

Waterpolo player Iris Wolves - in Italy for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament

“Last year, the OQT was cancelled at the last minute and, of course, things aren’t going well now either. But I’m increasingly assuming that the tournament will go ahead as ‘normal’, even though things are still a bit uncertain. We’ve also not played any international matches since February, so we need to see where we stand.”

“Yes, that’s really strange. Normally there are videos we can watch of our opponents, we would’ve played practice matches and we’d be totally prepared. Now everything is different. We’ve trained hard and I certainly think everything will work out well, but there’s much more uncertainty than usual. We’ve only been complete as a Dutch team since December. That’s when all the girls who play abroad came back.”

iris wolves op weg naar tokio

Read about last year

On the road to Tokyo: ‘It’s very weird to no longer know what you’re doing it for’

EM was following five students on their journey towards Tokyo 2020, but the Olympics have…

“It’s also been a special year for me personally. I transferred to the Spanish club CE Mediterrani in Barcelona last July. I lived and played there from the end of August for three months. Was that strange in these times? Mainly I was just really pleased that they had asked me. And in the first two months, lots of things were open and we just played our matches, so it felt rather normal. It was only in the last month that many places were closed and there was a curfew. But during the day I could cycle to the beach, so I still had a great time.”

“Life is very different now. Usually, the club would be a more relaxed place than the Dutch team. But everything is extremely professional here and you need to really perform every day. After the OQT I’ll be going back to Spain and I’ll stay there until May to play in the Europa Cup competition. But what the rest of the year will bring really depends on this week.”

“On Saturday we’ll know if we’ve placed for the Olympics. For now, it feels a bit like there’s no future after next week, because everything’s still so uncertain. That’s also because I don’t know how the tournament will go. Everything has changed because of the coronavirus. For example, we’ve already been told that our yell before the match is forbidden. It will be a completely different experience and will mainly be about who can best cope with the pressure.”