From Olympic dream to student life: “Stepping onto the winners’ podium is addictive”

From Olympic dream to student life: “Stepping onto the winners’ podium is addictive”

Series: students on their future plans

04-06-2024 · Interview

For years, Bas Ottevanger (25) had one major goal – participating in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games this summer. Then, a crash ended his cycling career. He went from elite athlete to student. “But I haven’t lost my competitive spirit. I want to make the most of my time at university.”

You can’t miss it, the framed red, white and blue jersey on the wall of his studio flat. It proves his status as a former Dutch cycling champion. “Having it up on the wall feels like a form of self-punishment sometimes”, laughs Ottevanger. “I should be training for Paris right now. Not a day goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind.”

Ottevanger’s list of results shows that being an Olympian wasn’t just a pipe dream for him. He’s a ten-time Dutch National Track Championships medallist, finished third in a European Championship, broke the national record in the individual pursuit, and claimed sixteen road racing victories – and these are just a few of his achievements as a youth and junior rider. “I started cycling around the age of eleven and was already winning serious races a few years later. At fifteen, I moved to Papendal, the Dutch centre for elite sports and education. My goal of qualifying for the Olympics was realistic. I was among the best track cyclists, alongside guys who are playing in the big leagues now, like [six-time Tour de France stage winner] Jasper Philipsen and [2021 Olympic silver medallist] Ethan Hayter.”

Disillusion

An unfortunate crash during a race in 2018 put an end to his dreams. Ottevanger broke his nose and contracted an infection during the operation. “I developed painful back inflammation, which made riding my bike difficult. My team terminated my contract. When I was finally ready to compete again in 2020, races were cancelled due to Covid. I thought I would never get back to my former level and decided to cut my losses.”

His decision was also motivated by his disillusionment with the world of elite sport. “It’s a precarious existence. When they keep telling you ‘You’ll get there’ and mentioning you in the same breath as big talents, you start believing in yourself. But if the results don’t come, they discard you like a piece of rubbish. I felt used. In retrospect, I can put it into perspective – as an elite athlete, you’re a product. There are dozens like you out there.”

Ottevanger initially struggled to switch gears, he says. “I couldn’t watch cycling races anymore. I just kept thinking, ‘That could’ve been me.’” But his bitterness has since subsided. “I enjoy watching cycling on TV again and I love going for a ride myself in the Dutch Hills, albeit ten kilometres per hour slower than before.” The framed jersey on his wall no longer just feels like self-punishment. “It also motivates me when I’m struggling. It’s a reminder of what I’ve achieved.”

Become the best

His shift in mindset was sparked by a fresh challenge. “I was determined to find something else I was good at.” He embarked on a new chapter in life – university. In 2020, Ottevanger started studying Health Sciences, specialising in policy and management. “It’s what I was interested in. As a cyclist, you’re very focused on health, and I spent a lot of time in hospital because of the infection.”

He still has his competitive spirit, although it doesn’t necessarily manifest in wanting to get good grades, explains Ottevanger. “I mainly want to make the most of my time at university and gain a lot of work experience, to later become the best at what I do.” He has represented the student party DOPE on the University Council and is an active member of the independent fraternity Lucifer. “When I organise an event, it has to be better than previous editions.”

Ottevanger also has two businesses. He supplies wine to companies and consumers and, earlier this year, started BLITZ Drinks to produce alcoholic beverages (“similar to Aperol Spritz”) with two fellow students. They’ve already released two different drinks. Is that where his ambitions now lie? “It’s more like a hobby that gets me valuable work experience.”

Politics

The experience will come in handy, as his dream is to run his own healthcare business. “I’m not sure exactly what yet. Maybe in the pharmaceutical industry or in healthcare services, like a GP practice. I want to make an impact. I see it as a moral duty to use your talents to help society.” He has a long-term goal along the same vein: “I want to get into national politics later in life, for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). I’m already a member of their youth wing, JOVD.” In both careers, he’ll be in the spotlight. “Maybe that’s part of it, because of my past”, admits Ottevanger. “I like to be seen. Stepping onto the winners’ podium is addictive.”

At the same time, he knows all too well that the future is unpredictable. “You never know how things will turn out – I found that out the hard way. As long as I can ride my bike and drink my wine, I’m happy enough.”

Future plans

This academic year, Observant interviewed fifteem students about their plans for the future – their hopes, fears, and uncertainties. To what extent does their past play a role in their future plans? And what about major social issues like climate change, war in Europe and elsewhere, political instability, increasing poverty, and so on?

This is the last episode of this series. You can find all episodes here.

Photo: Ellen Oosterhof

Categories: news_top, People
Tags: future plans,olympics,cycling,bike,business,politics,studying,students

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