30 years of age is a milestone, age when people look back and also look ahead. For athletes, it´s an extra charge: the end of a career may finally be approaching or harvested.
Rutger Smith turns 30 in July but his name sounds like the past. The last time he competed at major competition was back in 2008 in Beijing Olympics. His results in Beijing were also under his expectations- and probably under his fans expectations also. But now he sits here, in a drawing room of the National Sports Center Papendal to interrupt the workday with a cup of tea. The morning practice is over, the afternoon practice is coming. A day like any other. “I’m here from Sunday to Friday. Two minutes walking from the restaurant to the stadium.” Smith just got back from America. In one of his first competitions after a comeback he was immidately asked to an interview.
He makes his debut at the FBK Games in Hengelo this weekend. “I’m back,” he says with an eager face. “I’ve really missed competing. This is what I do best and this is what I want. I’ve always said when I get back, I want to be better than ever. Now I feel that it’s in there.”
What has happened since Beijing?
“After the Olympics, I went on a holiday and shortly after that I got some really bad news- my father was terminally ill. A huge shock for me. My dad was always my biggest fan. And then he got a cancer. During the time I worked hard to come back. The next setback was a cortisone injection to the moisture in the vertebras. Initially I felt good, but the symptoms came back. Therefore, I skept my indoor season in 2009. Then I went to Germany for the X-ray therapy. It didn´t help so I had to skip my outdoor season as well. In early 2010 my dad´s health got much worse. Therefore, I took my time off and skept my indoor season, again. In the spring my dad´s health continued to get worse but I still did my best to reach the European Championships in Barcelona. I though: “Would he be able to see me again?” But I fell from one misery to another so I didn´t reach there.”
How did your father reply?
“He said the most important thing is that I am in shape again. He saw my best performances- that he can take along.”
Last year, on September 14 Rutger Smith´s father died. A day later he felt his dad is not here anymore. A month later he continued to work hard and now he is back in competition.
Something similar happened to cyclist Robert Gesink . He still misses his father during the competitions.
“His father past away recently, am I right?. I mean, there’s nothing beautiful about death. But I have to go on with my mission. It has been a terrible period of my life. Cancer is what nobody wants to experience.”
Rutger Smith is a huge man who tells his story in deliberate terms. Almost 2 meters tall and about 130 kilograms of weight- An extra wide seat in cafe “Dug Out” â€‹â€‹is a single seat for Smith. He was still a young athlete when he decided who he wants to be. He saw 100 meters sprint with Ben Johnson at the Olympic Games 1988. “I was seven years old when I saw that. I thought it was wonderful, but few days later I was frustrated, but Johsnon remains a phenomenon.” The sprinter who he wanted to be proved to have more talent for running long distances and later for throwing events such as shot put and discus.
“First I started to grow a bit, but the growth accelerated when I was 11-12. My muscles could not keep up with such growing speed. I started to lift weights when I was 16. That went too easy and I got stronger so fast. I only had to look at the dumbbells and the muscles grew.
Rutger Smith loved the “quiet” beauty of the discus and shot put. When he first tried shot put and discus throwing he already knew it´s worth trying. The big success came in 1999 when he won the European Junior Championships and the year later won gold award from the World Junior Championships. He won silver from the World Championships in 2005 and silver from the European Indoor Championships as well. Two years later, in Osaka, Smith was in a good shape again, but this time his glory event was discus. He finished fourth in the shot put although he was in a shape of his life. A year later at the Beijing Olympics, Smith finished seventh and ninth… After what the disaster emerged.
Did you look back at that period or just ahead?
“I had this terrible injury but I´d feel sorry when I had quit. I was not finished in my mind and I’m not done with sports. I can still accomplish a lot.”
What is the perfect age in your sport?
“Between 28 and 32 years. It´s a pity that I missed those years, especially when you see how easy was to come back. People sometimes say that those two years wasn´t a vain, that I might have burned otherwise. I will keep the low profile. This year I probably won´t achieve much but if I stay healthy I don´t exclude nothing in 2012.
Does this setback helps you to cope with a life better?
“Such injuries had effect on my confidence before but now I am calmer. I know what I am able to achieve. Until the basis is there. I´m good enough. Many athletes make themselves crazy by constantly looking for a confirmation for their abilities. I think: OK, it will come.”
Age keeps you busy?
“Not at all. I feel a lot younger than 30. Of course I notice it in my body. The recovery takes longer, but I am still physically capable of anything.”
Rutger Smith once dreamed of a double strike for a gold in both discus and shot. Only three men have succeeded in the past. “It is still a dream. You must set your goals as high as possible and that is the highest I could set. I train every day, I have it in my mind. London 2012, to be my Games.”
Will your father witness this in one way or another?
“I’m not religious, but I do believe in things like body and mind. So I think my dad is still there, and he is watching.”
23-05-2011 / Volkskrant – Bart Jungmann
Translated to English by Meigo Tammsaar