Youth Olympian Laura represents Dutch investment in girls’ improvement

Dutch men finished fourth at the last two Olympic Games: Rick van der Ven in London in 2012 and Sjef van den Berg in Rio in 2016. 

Although as a team the Netherlands hasn’t posted consistent results in 2018, the rise of the current world number one, Steve Wijler, has given the men yet another powerful asset to deploy in competition.

With the strength, depth and relative youth in the men’s squad, you’d be excused for thinking it more likely a Dutch boy would qualify for Buenos Aires – but over the past few years, there’s been heavy investment in raising the level of young women.

So, instead, it’s Laura van der Winkel representing the Netherlands’ interests in the archery competitions at these Youth Olympic Games.

“In the beginning of the year when we started the selections, I didn’t even know this Games was held,” said Laura.

“When I got to know that I had to go, it was like ‘woah, did I really do it’. Totally amazing, mind-blowing. I didn’t expect it.”

A member of the national youth squad for two years, having started archery two years prior, Laura’s been training at the national archery centre in Papendal alongside another Dutch athlete in Buenos Aires – albeit one who’s not competing.

Sjef is attending the event, along with Mexico’s Aida Roman, as an athlete role model.

“I’ve asked him a couple of questions like what does he do when he’s shooting in wind, how can I deal with the wind for example. The past few days there have been very strong winds here,” said Laura.

A veteran international archer at the age of 23, Sjef gave a talk to the participants about his own experiences trying to maintain mental wellness as an elite sportsperson. The value of that learning, plus understanding the workings of a multisport event, shouldn’t be underestimated in the development of a young athlete.

“Success at an event like this can prove very valuable in the future. I am sure examples like Marcus D’Almeida and Lee Eun Gyeong would agree,” said Sjef.

Marcus was silver medallist at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in the same year – 2014 – that he took second at the Youth Olympics.

Lee just won the international circuit at the end of her debut senior season.

“The fact that they get to do a multisport event at a young age will give them a unique experience,” he added. “I think the initial shock of the sheer size of the Olympic village would have been a lot less for me if I had had the opportunity to compete at a Youth Olympics.”

Sjef fell in the gap between the two Games already held for cadet athletes; he was too young when the event was held in 2010 and too old in 2014.

Laura, in a competition that has a maximum quota of one athlete per gender per country, is lucky to have the opportunity to compete.

“In the beginning, it was, like, overblown with the Youth Olympic Games itself. It was like ‘woah, I’m here, I’m really here’,” she said.

And there are more first experiences to come. The 16-year-old will walk out into an archery arena for the first time when she takes on her first match at the Youth Olympics.

“I’m really looking forward to standing there. [I’m going to be] very nervous, I think. I will try to control my nerves. I’m here, you know. Woah. I am going to shooting in a finals field and I am at this level now,” said Laura.

“I didn’t think I would make it, four years ago just trying archery for fun, and now I’m here. I’m really surprised.”

The third edition of the Youth Olympic Games takes place on 12-17 October 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.