The Netherlands has won one Olympic title in water polo. That happened at the women’s tournament in 2008. The leader of the team that reached the highest step of the Olympic podium in Beijing was Daniëlle de Bruijn, who will share her memories for Total Waterpolo’s readers in the series „Reaching Olympus“.
De Bruijn played at the Olympic Games two times. In 2000, the Dutch were very close to a medal, but they finished 4th. The Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games. In Beijing 2008, the Dutch won gold, and Daniele de Bruijn was the tournament’s best scorer with 17 goals including seven in the final against the USA (The Netherlands won 9:8).
Besides the Olympic gold, De Bruijn won the silver medal at the 1998 World Championships, two medals at the Europeans (silver in 1999 and bronze in 1997), gold at the 1999 FINA World Cup.
Let’s start with Sydney 2000. Results from that Olympic cycle placed you on the top favourites list, but you end up in probably most disappointing 4th place. What did you learn in Australia that helped you later on in Beijing?
Wow! That is a really difficult question for me. In 2000 we were favourites because we had a very experienced team. And it was really a disappointing Olympic Tournament. After the Sydney Games, 11 of the 13 players stopped playing, due to retirement, and Gillian van den Berg and I had to continue with a whole new team. We didn’t qualify for the Athens Games, so the construction of a new strong team continued. I think we can thank our success to a really talented group of young players who were willing to do everything and always put the team first. That, in combination with a great staff, made the difference.
Can you recall some of your favourite team moments from the gold medal journey in Beijing 2008?
In the end, we won the gold, but in the group matches, we did not do so well. We lost the first and third games to Hungary and Australia and were happy going to the quarterfinals. We played Olympic champion Italy and after a 2-goal lead, they equalised in the last four seconds of the game. Our very young goalie stopped Italy’s last penalty and we qualified for the semifinals. We had more tough moments than the good ones but I think getting through them together defines a real and strong team. The win in the quarterfinals was the first time we had a good vibe at the Olympics. It was tough but we pushed on. In the semifinals, we beat Hungary and we were ecstatic with joy. For me personally, the best time was the confidence and power we all felt in preparation for the final. We were so close and confident (which is very remarkable for such a young squad) that that led us to the gold.
You made an epic sports achievement, scoring 7 of 9 goals in the final. How did you do that? 🙂
To be honest, I really don’t know. You can say that I was in ‘the zone’. Absolute concentration and focus on my task (and not on the result). During the match, I was not aware of how many goals I was scoring. It was a team effort. I was at my best that day, but without my team, I could not have done it. I was happy my teammates gave me the opportunity to score 7 goals and would have done the same for any one of them.
What does it take to become an Olympic champion? (what are the crucial factors in achieving that goal)
Doing the work, putting in the effort for becoming a better player and becoming a member of a better team. Make choices that lead to the growth of a player and a team, and not only to better results.
Looking at the Tokyo Games, how do you see this tournament will develop and who will end up on the podium?
I am really looking forward to the Olympics. Finally, after so many years a good strong Dutch team is competing. I think the USA will definitely be on the podium, but besides them, a number of really strong teams can win a medal. Of course, I hope the Dutch will be one of them. Australia has a special track record of playing well at the Olympics. It’s great watching women’s water polo at the Olympics altogether.