In a Dutch home, a battle for bragging rights
Striker Thijs van Dam's girlfriend Pien Sanders has won everything there is to win and that is inspiring him to step up as well
Back home in Rotterdam, Thijs van Dam’s trophy cabinet boasts of several championship trophies and gold medals ranging from the Olympic Games to the World Cup. The only thing is they don’t belong to him.
Van Dam’s girlfriend and live-in partner Pien Sanders plays for the Dutch national women’s team – the most successful outfit in the history of the sport – and has won everything there is to win.
The 24-year-old won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo 2020 before clinching the World Cup gold last year in Amstelveen and Terrassa. Sanders is also a two-time winner (2017, 2021) of the extremely competitive EuroHockey Nations Championship, the World League (2016-17) and also the 2018 Champions Trophy.
In fact, the only silver medal hanging in the cabinet belongs to van Dam which he won at the 2018 World Cup here when Netherlands lost the final in a shootout to Belgium.
“She has won everything – from the Olympic gold medal and to gold at the World Cup. Sometimes I see them and just think f*** (laughs)," says the 26-year-old. “It is time for me to also get the gold medal. I also have to win them.”
With a successful player as a partner, van Dam doesn’t have to look elsewhere for inspiration. “We talk about hockey a lot whether we are at home or travelling to play matches. She always inspires me. There is a big difference between the women’s and men’s hockey team in the Netherlands."
The Dutch women’s hockey team is the most successful outfit in the sport, having won four Olympic gold medals and an incredible nine World Cups, including the last three.
The Netherlands men’s team suffered a painful loss in the 2018 World Cup here when they lost 2-3 to Belgium in the penalties following a 0-0 result in regulation time. Van Dam, who was awarded the Young Player of the Tournament then, wants to make amends and is eager to guide his team to the third consecutive final and first title since Utrecht 1998.
“The shootout last time was really close. It was a big disappointment. You play for the gold medal. If you see our history, you see only gold medals so that was a really big disappointment. This time we are here for revenge. We are playing for gold,” said van Dam.
It will be a repeat of last edition’s final on Friday when the Netherlands face Belgium in the semi-final at the Kalinga Stadium here. The other semi-final will be played between Australia and Germany.
“We have the chance to win. In the last Pro League, we showed the world that we can win against every team but also that we can lose to every team. At the moment Australia and Belgium are the two favourites. They have a lot of experience. They have played for a really long time together but if we play well, we can beat them. We have to be really good. It is possible," said van Dam.
This is also van Dam’s fifth visit to India with the first one being the 2016 Junior World Cup in Lucknow. After that he has come to India for the World League, World Cup and Pro League.