Marieke Keijser won bronze in the lightweight double sculls

Marieke Keijser op Twitter
Marieke Keijser (right) and Ilse Paulis (left) a few days before their match Image credit: Marieke Keijser

“I’m a bit out of it at the moment, but I do want to be really proud as soon as I can.” The bronze medal that Marieke Keijser won at the end of last month together with Ilse Paulis on the rowing course in Tokyo is one with a rather special story and a few mixed feelings. Because, as she said a year and a half ago, the gold medal was really the only one she would have been happy with.

But that was the idea before the rollercoaster ride that was to follow. The Dutch rowing team soon had to deal with corona infections in Japan. Not only did that mean that Keijser’s two coaches suddenly had to be quarantined, but the whole experience of the Games changed for her as well. “The past few weeks have felt like months, with each day bringing another letdown. The whole procedure has been almost unreal. At a certain point, it really became a matter of survival. It wasn’t any fun; you couldn’t enjoy things anymore. The magic of the Games wasn’t there.”

And then there was the race itself. For some time, it looked as if the rowing pair were on their way to gold, despite all the problems caused by corona. But a mistake made by Keijser in the last few metres resulted in their golden dream going up in smoke. “I thought we had the gold medal in our pocket, so the way we lost really hurts. But I think the bronze medal is worth even more because of everything that happened. It is a medal we got at the Olympics after all, even though it’s still not the one we were going for.”

Keijser does not yet have an answer to the question as to how she will feel after these Games. She plans to use the coming period to give all these impressions a place. “This was not the experience that I had been working extremely hard for over the past few years. I think that it will hit me again, but it is very difficult to have an opinion about it right now. I’m really going to enjoy life in the coming period and try to get back on my feet.”

But at the end of the interview, she stresses that she’s not down and out now either. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I just don’t know when I will be able to enjoy rowing again. I’ll probably also get back into the sport, because I did notice too in the period before the Games how much fun and wonderful top-level sport is.”

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Marloes Keetels won gold with the hockey team

Malou en Marloes met goud
EUR students and hockey players Malou Pheninckx and Marloes Keetels show their gold medal from the Olympics Image credit: Marloes Keetels

A gold medal, a royal distinction, several ceremonies in Scheveningen and a conversation with Queen Maxima about hockey. The past week was in many respects a very special one for hockey star Marloes Keetels. After losing the final at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the goal was clear for Keetels and her teammates: Gold in Tokyo. And after five years packed with European titles and a world title, they finally got that far last week after a 3-1 victory over Argentina. Then just this week, she was also made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau. “Just like any other athlete, we have been training exceptionally hard for five years. It is also great that everything came together at the right time.”

She also looks back on the rest of her time in Japan with a great deal of pleasure. Of course, everything was somewhat different than usual because of Corona. “But in the end, the overall experience was pretty much the same as it was in Rio. The rules were very strict in the run-up, but in the Olympic village we were pretty much free. Apart from the face masks and keeping our distance, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Since we played so many matches in those two weeks, we weren’t able to watch any other sports anyway. I think the experience for individual athletes was totally different.”

After the silver medal in Rio, outsiders might view the hockey players’ gold medal in Tokyo as a kind of vendetta. Yet Keetels especially cherishes the process towards the medal. “It’s been a tough few years, also for me personally. I was captain for a year, but that role didn’t really suit me, so that was difficult. I’ve had some injuries and as you might expect, there were some frustrations at the end because of Corona. But we managed to find a good balance as a team in Tokyo. Everything came together and that made us unbeatable. That feeling is much more important to me than the progress we’ve made compared to five years ago.”

After a year and a half of being busy with hockey practically non-stop, Keetels is taking a break from the sport for the next few weeks. A suitcase with nothing but holiday clothes; it’s going to take some time to get used to. “No doubt I will get some exercise in because I enjoy it, but I don’t have to do anything for a while. That’s good, because after that, training with the club and the Dutch team is set to start up again.”

marloes keetels hockey nederlands team foto koen suyk

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Iris Wolves finished sixth with the water polo team

The medal she had so hoped for beforehand did not materialise at her first Olympic Games. Hungary was too strong for Iris Wolves and her teammates in the quarterfinals. So, the water polo player looks back on her adventure in Tokyo with mixed feelings too. “I am pleased with how I played. I had a great tournament. But I’m still gutted by the result. It’s very close at the top and there was the possibility that we could lose to Hungary. I am still sad about that. We were so close.”

A really special experience. That’s how Wolves describes her first Games, despite all the restrictive measures in the Olympic village that she also had to contend with. “We were in complete lockdown during the training week before the Olympics. Then we couldn’t do anything except train and sit in our rooms. However, there was a lot more freedom in the village. That’s when I felt that I was genuinely at the Olympics.” That feeling did change slightly when the first corona infections were detected in the Dutch athletes and trainers. “Then the coffee lounges closed, you weren’t allowed to take the lift with other people and I even felt a bit scared to talk to other athletes.”

Wolves and her teammates eventually had more than enough time to soak up the atmosphere of the Games and the Olympic Village. While the other members of Team NL flew home as soon as possible after they were eliminated, the water polo players were the only athletes who got to play extra matches.

An ordeal, as Wolves puts it. “After we lost in the quarterfinals, we spent six more days in the village and played two matches that didn’t count for anything anymore. That was hard, because we were not allowed to watch other sports and the village was deserted. The only advantage was that we were able to end the Games on a high note as a team.”

Wolves is on holiday for the next month. But after that, busy water polo periods will start up once more. She is going back to Spain to play for her club team and later this year, she and her Dutch team have the European Championships in Split. “Hopefully that will be a normal tournament as well so family and friends can come and watch. The World Championships are in May next year and the year after that we can already qualify again for the next Olympic Games, so it’s all going really quickly.”

iris wolves op weg naar tokio

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