On 21 August 2008, Beijing’s Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park was the venue for the inaugural 10km open water marathon race. The event culminated in a drama-packed sprint between three of the discipline’s giants, Maarten van der Weijden (NED), David Davies (GBR) and Thomas Lurz (GER), with the resilient Dutchman getting his tactics spot on to claim the gold medal.
In the video below, van der Weijden talks exclusively about that memorable day, sharing his thoughts with the same passion that propelled him to Olympic glory in China.
Van der Weijden’s story is certainly not run-of-the-mill. Born in 1981, he developed into a highly promising junior, specialising in long distances (400m and over) and clinching several Dutch Championship titles in the late 1990s. Subsequently deciding to focus on open water swimming, a discipline that would later be brought into the Olympic fold, in 2000 he recorded top 10 finishes in the 5km and 10km races at the FINA World Open Water Championships.
However, in March 2001, he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Suddenly engaged in a battle for his life rather than for medals, he underwent a successful stem cell transplant, and jubilantly returned to the water two years later.
The Alkmaar-born swimmer’s sense of ambition was not in the slightest dampened during his time out. He began to pick up wins in the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup, and he landed a silver medal over 10km at the European Championships in 2006. Van der Weijden’s sights were now firmly set on becoming world champion and securing gold at Beijing 2008.
To achieve his new goals, he went to train in Eindhoven with the legendary Pieter van den Hoogenband. After redoubling his efforts, he accomplished the initial instalment of his dream when he won the 25km event at the 2008 World Championships in Seville (ESP). He also took bronze in the 5km and finished fourth in the 10km, a result which qualified him for the first ever Olympic open water marathon race in Beijing.
As for what happened next, 2008 Dutch Sportsman of the Year van der Weijden takes up the tale...