Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Team Pieter suits up for swimming championships

REUTERS , AMSTERDAM

Dutch double Olympic gold medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband, facing the challenge of Ian Thorpe at the world swimming championships in Barcelona next week, is the model of the new pool professional.

Swimmers are big business and have an entourage of which Mike Tyson would be proud. Well, almost.

Van den Hoogenband, for example, will be backed in Spain by an eight-man "Team Pieter" devoted to honing every aspect of their man's performance.

So far, the results speak for themselves. Van den Hoogenband, 25, has a hefty medal tally topped by two gold medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics for 100m and 200m freestyle, the latter at the expense of golden boy Thorpe before his home crowd in one of the Games' biggest upsets.

Three years on, the two will go head to head in the 100m and 200m in Barcelona. The Dutchman will be gunning for an improvement on his four silver medals from the 2001 world championships.

His continued success is the result of detailed planning spearheaded by coach Jacco Verhaeren.

"It is so important to have a team of professionals who guard every aspect and make sure that we won't get sloppy. It keeps Pieter and I focused," he said in a recent interview.

Verhaeren has coached Van den Hoogenband for 11 years and said when the two joined forces neither had much experience but over the years they built a close friendship that never came between their relationship as coach and swimmer.

As coach, Verhaeren is by no means the only one to help his swimmer develop. Van den Hoogenband also comes armed with a nutritionist, a physiologist, a power trainer, two managers, a personal medic and even a trained engineer.

Former Olympic bronze medal winner Wieger Mensonides studied mechanical engineering and uses his knowledge of fluid dynamics to prime the Dutch champion's technique.

"Swimming seems simple but it is very complex. The opportunities in the water are enormous," he said. "Our point of departure is to minimize resistance ... you have to slide as straight as possible through the water," said Mensonides in an interview with the Dutch sports magazine Sport International.

"Pieter is the ideal victim," he said. "The structure of his body, but especially his agility and the length of his arms, makes him the ideal swimmer," he said.

Van den Hoogenband's team use all possible technology disposal to fine-tune their swimmer and Verhaeren is convinced further success is just around the corner.

"We are ready for a personal best at the world championships," he said. "Pieter is doing very well. All the tests were perfect and mentally he is very strong. Hopefully that will be enough for gold in Barcelona."

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