So many chefs de mission for Paris 2024, so many goals.
One, Pieter van den Hoogenband, sets the 25 medals from ‘his’ Olympic Games in Sydney as the absolute lower limit in the inevitable prognosis. The other, Esther Vergeer, prefers to look at the bigger picture than at the amount of Paralympic medals that have to be taken home in two years’ time.
The Paralympians will face an equally great challenge in the French capital in two years’ time. Tokyo 2020 even yielded 59 medals, almost half of which, 25 pieces, were gold.
These are statistics that Vergeer does not have ready. That’s not strange. Because the former wheelchair tennis player has other priorities in this phase of the run-up to Paris.
The objective for her fourth Games as chef de mission is not exactly everyday. “I want every Dutch person to know eight Paralympic athletes by name after Paris 2024.”
Vergeer wants other Paralympic Games: ‘Ordinary Dutch people do not understand’
If it is up to Vergeer, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) will take a close look at the program at the Games. In the foreseeable future, she wants to start an international discussion focusing on the present and future of Olympic sport.
A tricky subject, especially in the current era in which the concept of ‘inclusion’ is central.
“The Paralympic Games, like the Olympic Games, must become an event that is only accessible to a limited number of athletes. Only the very best athletes in the world should be able to win a medal there. Paralympic sport is top sport. And top sport is exclusive, not including.”
For example, Verge wants to get rid of the countless categories of handicaps that are used in a number of sports. Formats that make the Paralympic Games impossible for many outsiders to follow.
Let them say it like this. “There should be a sport at the Paralympic Games for every handicap. But not all sports need to have a category for all those different handicaps in my opinion.”
These were the highlights of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo
Vergeer: “It is high time that a selection was made to make the Paralympic Games more transparent. An internationally renowned sport can only exist when the world’s best Paralympic athletes participate in a field that is as competitive as possible,” she continues. “Only then can a person get the best out of themselves. And that is exactly the essence of sport.”
Will her recommendations be adopted by the IPC? To ask the question is to answer it, thinks Vergeer.
“The Netherlands is a guiding country. We are done with the idea that everyone should be able to participate in the Paralympic Games and win a medal there. Only sixty, seventy, or perhaps eighty percent of the world is still far from that That’s why the IPC has been so hesitant to date.”
For Vergeer, the outcome of that discussion will not detract from the pleasure she will experience in Paris. She is eagerly looking forward to those Games, something that also applies to Van den Hoogenband.
“I look forward to such an event that is organized around the corner, so to speak, and gives us a huge home advantage,” says the latter. “After all that hassle in Tokyo, where corona side issues became main issues for me, I would like to do my work under normal circumstances. The measures in Tokyo were very much at the expense of the charm of the event.”
Watch interviews with Pieter van den Hoogenband and Esther Vergeer about Paris 2024 below.
Much of Van den Hoogenband’s work will be the same in France as in Japan. With the difference that in Paris there is a chastened chef de mission at the head of the Olympic team. “I learned a lot about myself in Tokyo. Every day.”
Nobody is perfect, was one of the lessons of Tokyo 2020. “There have been people who have criticized my performance at times. I can take that, because I have always been very outspoken in the past when things didn’t work out as I wanted. Then you shouldn’t be more Catholic than the pope now and just take it. It’s important to learn from that by looking in the mirror in a sincere way and not making those mistakes again in two years.”
Sydney als ‘benchmark’
In Tokyo, the Netherlands achieved a record score of 10 gold, 12 silver and 14 bronze, good for seventh place in the medal tally. Van den Hoogenband’s share in this? The 44-year-old chef de mission cannot be clear enough. “Zero point zero.”
He had only one task in the Land of the Rising Sun. “Ensuring that not one potential medal was lost.” Van den Hoogenband knows which question will be central in the next two years. “How can we do better in Paris?”
The answer will invariably be that surpassing that number of medals with probability bordering on certainty is impossible. “That achievement is unique.”
“As an objective I think more of the 25 medals from Sydney. For me that was the beginning of the current era in Dutch sport and for me a ‘benchmark’. We have to stay above that in Paris.”