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Dutch Olympic Team Chief Looks to Top 10 Finish in Beijing
    2008-08-07 23:03:53     Xinhua
The Dutch Olympic team faces tough challenges from South Korea, Spain, Hungary and Japan in its road to a top 10 finish in the medal tally, team chief Charles van Commenee told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"Our ambition is to finish in the top 10 in the medal tally. There are a few countries who are in the same bracket," the Dutch Chef de Mission said.

"They are of sort of similar strength. We hope to finish in the same bracket as them," he told Xinhua through telephone.

Van Commenee has high hopes for cycling, which in his opinion will probably bring home the most medals. The Dutch cycling team abounds with world class players, including Marianne Vos, who took the biking and road racing titles in 2006 world championships and became the track racing world champion in the points race this year.

"We are making a nine-medal shot (in cycling)," said van Commenee, also the technical director of the Dutch Olympic Committee.

Judo is another sport where the Dutch are likely to reap medals. The team boasts Ruben Houkes, the gold medalist in the men's under 60-kilo class at the 2007 World Judo Championships, and Mark Huizinga, who won one gold and two bronzes in the past three Olympic Games.

The Dutch are also strong in equestrian, field hockey, swimming and sailing. The Dutch women's hockey team is one of the favorites to took gold in Beijing, while Anky van Grunsven, 40, is looking to take her third gold in individual dressage in as many Olympic Games.

While aiming high, van Commenee is also realistic. "There is no use to compare ourselves with America or China," he said.

The high temperature and humidity in Beijing, coupled by jet lag, could pose a big challenge to Dutch athletes, van Commenee said.

"But we are prepared for that. Our players have been competing in China or its neighboring countries for at least twice in the past two years to prepare for the Olympics," he said.

Van Commenee is not in the least doubt that the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee will do a great job providing good service to international guests.

"With the help of the International Olympic Committee, everything will be at the best possible level," he said. "I'm not worried (about the food or transport) at all."

Recalling his stay in China in the early 1990s when he was coaching Chinese athletes, including shot putter Huang Zhihong, van Commenee said he was struck by the hospitality of the Chinese people.

"The people are very nice. I was treated like a king," he said.

Van Commenee has a high opinion of China in terms of sport. " China is one of the strongest nations in the world. They must have good strategy, knowledge and experience to be able to reach that level," he said.

Van Commenee also pointed out that competing on home soil could turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help.

"When you compete in your own country, you feel huge pressure because the crowd have high expectations of you," he said. "The extra pressure does not help."

"Winning is hard enough, but winning at the Olympics in your own country is even harder," he said.

His advice for Chinese athletes: Closing your eyes to those unwanted distractions.

"I would suggest that the Chinese athletes focus on themselves and not take too much notice of what the people might expect of them," he said.

Speaking about the stimulus for the Dutch athletes, van Commenee said the Dutch Olympic Committee is not going to pile huge amounts of material prizes on the medal winners.

A gold medalist will be awarded 25,000 euros, a modest sum compared to prizes in many other countries.

"We prefer to spent our money on improving our training programs and facilities rather than awarding the athletes. The money could be used to employ good coaches, or for the team to go to training camps," he said.

The Netherlands took part in nearly all modern Olympic Games and has so far bagged 230 medals in summer Olympics, no mean feat for a country with a population of 16.4 million.

Van Commenee believes that the fact that the Netherlands has a small size and a high population density helps the country to achieve its sports glories.

"When you have lots of people living together, it's easier to organize sport," he said. "We can easily comprise a volleyball team or have a strong league between clubs. It's very hard to organize in a country like Russia."

He said this is why the Dutch are traditionally quite strong in team sport.

Sixteen Dutch teams are going to compete in the Beijing Olympic Games, including men's and women's field hockey, baseball, softball, men's football and women's waterpolo.

"You can only have strong sport if you have a strong league at home," he said. "Clubs competing every week tend to produce good players."

For individual sport, the small size of the country also helps.

"If you're a pretty good swimmer or a speed skater, the chances of having a swimming pool or a speed skating track nearby (your home) is quite high," van Commenee said.

"The small size of the country is in this sense an advantage rather than a disadvantage," he said.

The Netherlands has the highest percentage of population who is a member of a sport club, a fact that van Commenee is proud of.

"For instance, more than 1 million people are members of football clubs. Every village has its own football club," van Commenee said.
 
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