The 27th Olympic Games in London is the prominent background of Ajax’s training camp in England. In Southampton, sights and sounds of the various Olympic exploits can be followed everywhere. This brings back wonderful memories for former Olympian Kenneth Vermeer.
Four years ago, when the Olympic Games were held in Beijing, the Ajax player was still part of the Dutch Olympic delegation. Participation in the Olympic Selection was historic at the outset. It hadn’t happened very often in the past that Dutch football players were striving for Olympic gold. In 2008, Vermeer had a fellow Ajax player in this Dutch historic selection, Urby Emanuelson. Ryan Babel and Hedwiges Maduro were also acquaintances of the keeper.
“Participating in the Olympics is a wonderful experience”, says Vermeer, looking back to Beijing four years ago. Foppe de Haan’s Olympic selection travelled via Hong Kong, where they stopped to play two practice matches on their way to the Games. “We arrived there, far from Europe, and we were in a completely different world” , continues Vermeer. “We had to get used to it in the beginning, even breathing felt different. But after playing for 15 minutes, you get used to it. It was also nice that we played all of our matches at the Games to sold-out stadiums.”
The cities where the Olympic football tournament was played were all far away from Beijing. The Dutch flew from city to city to play their matches. Despite the massively full stadiums, the distance between them and the Olympic epicentre of Beijing was a downside. Even a disadvantage. After the pool matches against Nigeria, the United States and Japan, Ajax went into the knoch out round fully stretched. Vermeer: “Unfortunately, we never made it to the Olympic Village. If you’re there, then you really have the feeling that you’re taking part in the Olympics. But it was different for us. We lost to Argentina who had, at the time – Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. If we had beaten Argentina, we’d have played in Beijing.”
The feeling that Vermeer kept from participating inthe Olympic Games is comparable to participating in the European Championships or the World Cup. Taking part in the Games was special, but so it playing in another one of the big tournaments. “But now I think it’s great that I played inthe Olympics”, emphasizes Vermeer. “After the tournament, we all received a ball match from the tournament. Later, I received a medal at home. I also kept some jerseys from the Olympic tournament. But that’s mostly what I do it for. I have a room at home with mementoes. Looking back, I think it’s amazing that I participated in the Olympics. The medal is there, too, with the other medals I’ve won in my career.”
Vermeer looks at the current Olympics with a different perspective than in 2008. “A favourite part of the Games? I have to say sprinting. I want to see that. Other than that, it doesn’t matter much, I want to watch most of it. At training camp, we can watch quite a bit in our rooms. That way, we can see a lot.”