The image above shows Sherida Spitse, captain of the Dutch national women's football/soccer team that won the UEFA European Championship in 2017. Like anywhere else in the world, women's football is also in the Netherlands, by far, not as popular as men's football. The fact that this team did manage to win the European title by beating Denmark in the final created a real hype around the team. Ever since this tournament, all international matches of the Dutch women when playing at home have been sold out. The momentum is still there and is expected to stay for another while. The results during the upcoming 2019 FIFA World Cup will potentially be a reason why this hype continues or perhaps starts to decrease.
After winning the European title, the ladies were honored by the Dutch fans for their achievements. These celebrations happened in the city of Utrecht, one of the largest cities in the country, and very centrally located. The Dutch government had decided to schedule the celebrations for Monday afternoon when the majority of the people would be working, in the aim not to attract too many people. If you look at the picture above, you can see that there were an extremely lot of people present, despite the awkward time. The people you see in the background of the picture were just a glimpse of all the people present. Before the players arrived on stage they had been celebrating in front of huge crowds during a boat tour through the city.
What you see here is freedom. Celebrating the achievements of exceptional athletes that performed at the highest level, which happened to be from the country in which you are born. It's weird, but this is what sports do to people. Sports unites and creates this amazing atmosphere every once in a while, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, in life, there are also individuals that feel like they need to take such freedom away from us. Whatever the reasons behind it are, these sort of happenings should never have the chance to overtake our lives. I am happy that the majority of the people in this world feels the same, which makes me confident in my thoughts that in the end, love and freedom will win this battle. I do feel sorry for the individuals causing the upset, anger and fear. I am sure that something has happened in their lives that weren't as positive and nice, as happily celebrating people. However, I dare to say, everyone in life faces the good and the bad from time to time. Some more than others, but that doesn't give someone the right to start killing innocent people for no reason.
I am sure that most of you follow the news, and if you do, then you know what has happened in this lovely city Utrecht on Monday. A gunman started shooting at innocent people in a tram, leaving three people dead, and several others wounded. The suspect has been caught and will be in court by the end of the week. There are several stories going on about the motive the shooter had. Some people say it was a terrorist attack, whereas others believe it was some sort of revenge towards an ex-partner, or towards the lady that reported him to the police in a rape incident. Fact is, that none of these people were involved in the shooting. Either way, this post is not to find out if he did it, why he potentially did it, and why he choose these victims. This post is to get back to normal life in the fastest and best possible way. It is sad, of course, we need to mourn and remember, but we also need to show that we're not letting this sort of individuals win such a battle. In my opinion, there is no better way to celebrate the positiveness in life, than with sports. I would, therefore, like to show you what a great city Utrecht is, and how sports is part of that.
Utrecht is a student city. Every year thousands of young people from all over the world move to Utrecht and plan to stay there for at least a couple of years until they finish their studies. One of the most performed sports among students in the Netherlands is rowing. As there are that many students in Utrecht, one rowing club isn't enough. Utrecht has several ones, of which Viking, Orca, and Triton are the largest ones. Every year, members of Triton organize the largest rowing event of the Netherlands, named the Varsity.
Orca and Triton have had rowers that represented the Netherlands at the World Championships and the Summer Olympics. Some of these representatives even went on winning medals at these events. Triton even had a Nobel Prize winner rowing for them. Besides rower, Willem Einthoven was also a doctor. In 1924, three years before his death he won the Nobel Price in Medicine.
Talking about sports performed by students, then in the Netherlands, field hockey is one of them. In Utrecht, there is a team named SV Kampong, which is a multisport club. Besides field hockey, they have teams in many different sports. Yet, field hockey is the main sport at the club. Both the men's and the women's team perform at the highest level of Dutch field hockey. The men's team has won eight national titles and even won three international trophies, such as the European Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup, as well as the Euro Hockey League. The women's side is less successful but still managed to win two national titles. They also won three international prizes, two European Cups and one Cup Winners' Cup. When it comes to indoor hockey, the women are more successful than the men, with seven vs. two national titles.
The popularity of the sport in Utrecht resulted in the city being the host for the 1998 Hockey World Cups. Both the men's and the women's tournament were solely held in Utrecht. The Dutch national men's team won the title on home soil. This was the 3rd world title in their history and it would be the 2nd world title won in their home country, making it the only country to do that in the history of the sport to date. The final match against Spain ended up in a 2-2 draw, after which Teun de Nooijer scored the winning goal in extra time to secure the Dutch the trophy. The Dutch women also reached the final, but they lost their match 3-2 against Australia. It was Australia's 2nd World Cup title in history. Alyson Annan scored the first Australian goal in that match, she would be national coach of the Dutch women later on in her career.
People in the Netherlands love cycling. There are more than 30 million bicycles in the country, whereas there are approximately 16 million people living there. That means that almost every person owns two bicycles. The organization of the Giro d'Italia had chosen Amsterdam as the city from where the largest Italian cycling race would start. For some people, this might be strange, but these large cycling races quite often start in another country. After Bradley Wiggins had won the prologue in Amsterdam, the next day the race would finish in Utrecht. After a flat race of 210 kilometers, the race ended in a bunch sprint, with Tyler Farrar as the winner.
The citizens of Utrecht enjoyed the event very much, as large crowds came to watch and enjoy the race. Not much later plans were created to move even bigger than hosting such a big cycling race as a foreign city. They succeeded, as five years after having the Giro in the city, Utrecht would now be hosting the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2015. Such a Grand Depart doesn't just mean hosting a race departing from a city, it is a whole happening, which also includes the team presentation for instance. Anyway, the first stage would not just start in Utrecht, it would finish there as well. The individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers was won by Rohan Dennis, a specialist at the discipline. The win was even more impressive if you see the names of the riders he beat, such as Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara, and Tom Dumoulin.
The next day, the start of the second stage took place in Utrecht as well. Again, loads of people showed up to listen to the French and Dutch national anthems before the riders went on their way to the province of Zeeland, where the finish was for that stage. German cyclist André Greipel would win, whereas Fabian Cancellara would take over the yellow jersey from Rohan Dennis.
Now that the two largest cycling races in the world have visited Utrecht, they made it their goal to also have the third largest race, La Vuelta a Espana come by. They did so with success. In 2020 Utrecht will become the first city to host stages in these three races, and they are proud of it. This time they will host the starting team trial, which of course again includes also the teams' presentation and all other activities ahead of such a big race. The second stage will start in Den Bosch, but will then finish in Utrecht rather than starting there.
Dutch professional cyclist brothers Boy and Danny van Poppel were both born in Utrecht. Danny is the most talented of the two and has to date won 29 professional races and classifications. Another famous cyclist from Utrecht is Annemiek van Vleuten. Van Vleuten is one of the most successful female cyclists in the history of the sport having won a whole bunch of races, including the Overall UCI Women's World Cup, the Tour of Flanders, eight stages and the overall ranking in the Giro Rosa, two times La Course, Strade Bianche, as well as becoming the time-trial world champion twice.
What else is Utrecht famous for in sports?
In 2013 Utrecht was the host of the European Youth Olympic Festival. Every year two major running races take place, the Utrecht Marathon, as well as the Singelloop, which is a race over 10 kilometers. In 2010 Kenyan runner Leonard Komon set a world record over 10 kilometers during the Singelloop when he finished the race in 26.44 minutes. This is as of today still the world record. Only one person (Jacob Kiplimo) went three seconds faster in Madrid in 2018 but did this on an assisted road course, which then resulted in the time not being ratified by the IAAF.
If you talk about sports and Utrecht, then it would be a big mistake to leave Anton Geesink out. Geesink became the first non-Japanese to win a gold medal at the World Championships in judo, something he achieved twice throughout his career (1961 and 1965). In 1964 he also became an Olympic champion, again the first person to ever achieve this not being from Japan. Fun fact is that these Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, Japan. Let's however, not forget about the fact that he also won twenty-one European titles as well, which is still a record as of today.
Also, two very famous MMA fighters were born in Utrecht. Germaine de Randamie held the UFC Featherweight Championship title in February 2017. She would not defend her title eventually, as it was stripped off of her. The reason for this decision was that De Randamie did not want to fight with Cris Cyborg. Previously De Randamie also won four world titles in kickboxing. The other famous fighter from Utrecht is Alistair Overeem, who is a former K1 World Grand Prix champion, a former Strikeforce Heavyweight champion, as well as a former DREAM Heavyweight champion. What makes it more special, is that he held these three titles at the same time, which makes him the only athlete in the history of the sport to achieve this. After all, there are only two people ever to win the world championship in K1, as well as MMA.
Dafne Schippers is one of the most successful sports people of the Netherlands in athletics. She was also born in Utrecht and is/was considered the fastest caucasian woman on earth at the sprint distances. She is a double world champion, a five-time European champion, as well as a silver medal winner at the Olympics. Her first major successes were on the heptathlon, but later she decided to specialize at the sprint distances.
Last, but not least in this list of successful Utrechters is Jochem Uytdehaage, who excelled in speed skating. Uytdehaage was a specialist in all-around speed skating, a ranking created after combining the results of four distances skated in a single weekend (500m, 5000m, 1500m, and 10000m). He won two European all-around titles, and also won the world title all-around in 2002. That turned out to be the most successful year of his career. At the Olympics in Salt Lake City, he showed that he was the best at the two longest distances. He skated world records on both the 5000m and 10000m races, winning two gold medals. Uytdehaage also won a silver medal at the same Olympics over 1500m and won the world title over 5000m a year later in Berlin during the Single Distance World Championships.
But... that opening part is not all about Utrecht and football right?
You're right indeed! Of course, the football chapter is much bigger than that. FC Utrecht is the professional football team from the city. On paper, they are a fairly new team, as they were only founded in 1970, but that is only because they became a new team after the merger of three other teams, Velox, DOS, and Elinkwijk.
DOS became the champions of the Eredivisie in 1958, which was the only prize one of the original three teams won before they became FC Utrecht. As FC Utrecht, they won the Dutch national cup three times, and they were runners-up an additional three times. In 2003 they lost the final of the Johan Cruijff-Schaal (Super Cup), but they took revenge in 2004, by beating Ajax in their own stadium 4-2.
Some famous football players born in Utrecht are former Barcelona player Ibrahim Afellay, the first Dutch female idol Anouk Hoogendijk, current Ajax manager Jan van Halst, World Cup 2010 star Wesley Sneijder, as well as Euro 1988 stars and Dutch legends Marco van Basten, Gerald Vanenburg, and Jan Wouters.
A lot of good players have defended the FC Utrecht colors but were not born in Utrecht themselves. Some of these famous players are Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Michael Mols, Willem van Hanegem, Dries Mertens, and of course a very young Dirk Kuyt.
Hang in there Utrecht, your great city is, and always will be great. Love and passion will win it in the end from the hate and evil.
Thank you for reading.