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17 Jul 2015
IOC News

Teun de Nooijer on finding gold and love at Atlanta 1996

A double Olympic champion and the winner of four medals in all, Dutch hockey player Teun de Nooijer looks back to his first Games at Atlanta 1996, where he struck  gold on and off the pitch.

Teun de Nooijer is the most famous No14 in the history of Dutch hockey. Capped more than 400 times by his country and a veteran of five Olympic Games, at which he won two gold medals and two silvers, he was three times voted FIH Player of the Year between 2003 and 2006 and scored a wonder goal in the 1998 World Cup final, helping the Netherlands win the trophy for a third time. After representing his country in every age group at youth level, de Nooijer made his senior debut at the age of 18. Two years later he was making his maiden Olympic appearance at Atlanta.

“In the beginning I thought: ‘Maybe it’s going to be the first and the last time’,” he says of the 1996 Games, before explaining why they turned out to be so special: “We did pretty well. We got the gold medal in the end. That’s what you want to achieve. That’s the place where you want to be as an athlete. And I met my wife in Atlanta, so that was also very nice.”  The lady in question was Philippa Suxdorf, who was representing Germany in the women’s hockey competition. The two later married and now have three children.

“We weren’t really the favourites, but I still remember it,” says the Dutch star, looking back on the Atlanta 1996 tournament. “As a field hockey player you don’t go that much to the United States. I’d never been there before we went to Atlanta. So it was the first time for us. They came and said: ‘Great, where are you from?’, ‘We’re from Holland.’ ‘Great, what are you going to do?’. And I still remember that I said: ‘We are here to win the gold medal’.”

The Dutch had not appeared in an Olympic final since Helsinki 1952, where they lost to India, and had never won hockey gold before. Undaunted, they cruised through Group B, recording four wins and a draw to tee up a semi-final against Germany.

“That’s the most special memory for me, because as a hockey player you know that if you win that one, you’re going to play the final and you know we have a nice medal,” recalls de Nooijer.

Sure enough the Netherlands defeated their neighbours 3-1 to advance to the final against Spain. There, they soon found themselves with a struggle on their hands, falling behind to a Victor Pujol goal at the end of the first period.

©Getty Images

“I don’t know, maybe we were a bit anxious, maybe we were a bit afraid to do well and to go for the gold,”explains the former Oranje No14. “But in the second half something happened, and we had something like: ‘OK, just give everything we’ve got and we’ll see in the end what happens”. We had some penalty corners, and we converted them, and in the end we won the game 3-1.”

When he mounted the podium to collect his gold medal, de Nooijer could not help but look around for the new lady in his life: “Everyone raised their hands and smiled and I was looking for my girlfriend, where is she? I was proud, of course, proud with the gold medal. There’s a picture, everybody has their hands in the air, and I’m just looking to the stands, to my future wife.”

At Sydney 2000, de Noojier helped the Netherlands retain their title, scoring four goals in a glorious campaign that ended with penalty-shootout wins over Australia in the semis and the Republic of Korea in the final.

Four years later in Athens the men in orange once again got the better of the Germans in the last four, with de Nooijer scoring the winner in an exciting 3-2 victory. However, he could do nothing to stop Australia taking the gold with a 2-1 extra-time win in the final. In his fourth Games at Beijing 2008, de Noojier and his Dutch team-mates had to be content with fourth place after going down 6-2 to the Australians in the bronze-medal match. However, they were back in the final at London 2012, but this time lost 2-1 to Germany.

With five straight appearances in the Games, four medals and one wife – few Olympians can look back on such an impressive haul as Teun de Noojier!

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