161-c: YURI VAN GELDER, LORD OF THE RINGS

YURI VAN GELDER WORLD CHAMPION, MELBOURNE 2005

Yuri van Gelder is a Dutch gymnast, born in 1983.
Height 160 cm, weight 61 kg.
Specials: Rings.
In 2005, world champion in Melbourne.

He started at the age of 5 with gymnastics and has been for many years one of the best gymnasts in the world. Hence his nickname LORD OF THE RINGS.

From 2006, problems arise with cocaine use causing his trainer to end the cooperation. In 2009, he tested positive on cocaine during the Dutch Championships. As punishment, he was suspended for a year, sacked from the Army and he could not participate in the Olympic Games of 2012. He eventually may participate in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 for which he manages to qualify for the ring final

On the evening of the day that he qualifies for this final, he leaves the Olympic village; he will celebrate his success with his girlfriend and her family. A final that is on the program nine days later. He returns against the appointment, very early in the morning and so misses his morning workout. A complicating factor is the fact that van Gelder drank four or five glasses of beer during his nightly outing.

Yuri van Gelder

Yuri’s behavior was obviously not too convenient. But the responses and actions that followed were exceptionally exaggerated and were in no way proportionate to the offence. In the first place his trainer Bram van Bokhoven urgently requested to send his pupil home. That request was enthusiastically received and honored by Chef de Mission Maurits Hendriks. Yuri was put on a plane back to the Netherlands. That was the beginning of the drama in which the duo had gone too far. Of course this little incident should have been handled indoors.

But when sports bigwigs consider themselves more important than the athletes you can expect such slippages. Especially van Bokhoven and Hendriks should have protected van Gelder against himself and against the public opinion. But who treats athletes as under aged children is asking for trouble.

Back home in the Netherlands Mauits Hendriks was completely bulldozed under by a unanimous press and social media. It seems strange to me that ‘the professor’ as Hendriks was called mockingly when he was coach of the men’s hockey team during the Olympic Games in Sydney,  will keep the boarding in his head  intact. Athletes deserve a chef de mission with a little more intelligence and tact.

YOU DO TOP SPORTS FOR THE KICK

At the same time, the formula of the story in which elite sport floats is simple.

That is: Success = physical talent + the right character to sustain the training program with iron discipline, to control the nerves and to peak at the right time. Which then can be successful or not.

And suddenly there was Yuri van Gelder. For days the fuss was all about him, the gymnast was sent home because he was outside the athletes’ village for a little party and thus exceeded the norms and values. Now Yuri may not participate. This story is sometimes not predictable, but rather strange  – a novel worthy.

THE UNCONSCIOUS ASPECT OF TOP SPORT

Top sport attracts necessarily monomaniacal and risk-seeking people. We have a main character, a man who was ten years ago, the best ring gymnast in the world. He made a mistake (cocaine), but the plot line is clear: main character is makes amends, purifies, and triumphs yet. Ten years Yuri has trained like a beast for a second chance. That he gets – and next he loses everything  through a simple night out. Broken dream, because a third chance will not come. How can an athlete be so reckless? But also why the chef de mission was so disproportionately severe?

Hendriks, the professor always knows better        Bram van Bokhoven

If irrational things happen, I always like to search my salvation in psychoanalysis, because psychoanalysis knows how to manage something strange like self-sabotage. Psychoanalysis invites you to understand Yuri’s behavior as a symptom of the other side, the unconscious side of sport. I like that, because that allows us to exclude Yuri’s character – but indeed regard him as the “place” where the elite sport system shows its other face.

And there you see addiction sensitivity and transgressive behavior. Top sport necessarily attracts monomaniacal and risk-seeking people. Elite athletes go relentlessly for the kick and for that dare to take all the risk, or you’ll miss the appropriate drive.

JUNKS

In that respect, athletes resemble to junkies. The difference with addicts is that athletes do not let dominate their short-term interests. They should just endlessly practice for a purpose that is very far away – up to ten years. Top athletes are junkies with discipline. But self-control and desire to kick are opposing forces. To withstand the resulting stress, athletes need a framework. Which they must adhere to. A kind of code. An exoskeleton that provides support but also limitation. In sport it is called: the accompanying staff.

Exoskeleton

Yuri does something incomprehensible, but also the reaction of the leadership is strange and unreasonable, as has been pointed out frequently. Because how horrible it all was what Yuri did? His final would be days later; any hangover would have passed. His late, noisy homecoming seems to have disturbed other athletes. Annoying, but Yuri would have been sent home if he appeared to suffer from heavy snoring?

What has happened, there was obviously quite a reasonable solution imaginable. But such a solution was simultaneously impossible. The fact is not about reasonableness. The point is that an athlete in a tournament must listen unquestioningly.
As a professional athlete you cherish dangerous desires and inclinations. You have to be dogged, self-centered, risk-seeking, ruthless, focused on the kick. The forces that this evokes, can provide you with a strong discipline. That discipline can partly be given in the hands of your supervisors. Would such a system work, you have to undergo discipline. Athletes only thrive in a certain dictatorship.

Top athletes are admired and elite sport can be enjoyed immensely. But individual athletes are often uninteresting, self-centered, compulsive overblown types. I wonder which character is best suited to be a good athlete. Some athletes have personality characteristics that are definitely pathological. It is not a luxury for elite sport teams to employ a sports psychologist or sport psychiatrist. And not only for the athletes but also for the accompanying framework. It’s just a pity that good sport psychologists are rare.

Yuri van Gelder has been abandoned in any event at the Olympics. Especially with his history a sports psychologist would have been a necessity. Chef de Mission Maurits Hendriks has announced that he is willing to guide Yuri van Gelder soon after the Olympic Games. If there is someone who is not eligible for that than Hendriks is the name. How stupid can you be.

“The can say what they want, but for me it is gold”.
Yuri van Gelder, Lord of the Rings

Yuri van Gelder