After dancing and jumping in a circle with his Indian players, Sjoerd Marijne sprints to the dugout after the quarterfinals won at the Games in Tokyo. There he grabs his cell phone. Bent over the arrangement, he stares at the screen, visible from a distance, he tells his story emotionally. The joy and disbelief splashed from his face.
‘I only wanted one thing: to call my wife and children’, Marijne explains a little later in the mixed zone. The emotions have subsided by then, but when he mentions his wife and children, his eyes become moist again.
“This journey is not just for me. My wife is working hard at home to get it all managed. It has to deal with my disappointment, with my joy, with my irritations. I have such a strong wife, I think it’s so clever what she’s been doing for 4,5 years. That is why I wanted to share this success directly with her and with my children, who miss their father. They were all in front of the screen.’
The Marijne family has lived for 4.5 years on two continents. The coach in Asia, his wife and children in the Netherlands. In January 2017, Marijne became coach of the Women of India . Barely on steam , the federation brought him to the men’s team , where Roelant Oltmans was fired as coach. Less than a year later, he was again the women’s coach. Such is the case in India, where the line between hero and loser is wafer thin. Emotion always wins out over reason.
This is evident in the mixed zone after Nabhvarna ‘s historic victory over Australia , as the Indian ladies are nicknamed. There, Indian journalists ask their questions with tears in their eyes and emotionally thank the players extensively. In recent years, the same media have regularly been ready with the blunt ax to cut down on Marijne and his players in the event of a disappointing result.
Marijne was not distracted by it. He had gone to India with only one goal: to make it to the Tokyo Games. He qualified for Tokyo via a jump-off at the expense of the United States. A ticket that was won with great difficulty, because his players almost succumbed to the pressure in the second game.
After the elimination of the US, Marijne soon called Janneke Schopman, who was fired there because of missing the Games. Schopman took the plunge and became Marijne’s assistant.
The head coach is still happy with that to this day, he says after the quarterfinals that have been won: ‘Janneke has invested a lot of time and energy in the team over the last year and a half. She’s really good with the girls and has a big hand in India’s current success.’
Locked up in Bangalore
Marijne and Schopman got the team ready for Tokyo. This went smoothly until the corona pandemic brought life to a standstill. For months Marijne and his team were ‘locked up’ in Bangalore. Where he normally flew to Brabant every month to see his family, for a long time only contact via Facetime was possible. These were tough times, but no reason for Marijne to abort his mission in Tokyo.
Full of ambition, the team settled in Tokyo. But the start in the Oi Hockey Stadium was tough and difficult. India lost the first three matches to the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain. The Indian supporters already panicked, but Marijne remained calm and kept faith in his players.
That paid off. India advanced to the quarterfinals with victories over Ireland and South Africa.
In it, the team will meet Australia, the number two in the world and therefore the towering favorite, on the Japanese Monday morning. But the Indian players are not unhappy with that outcome beforehand, says Marijne. “The girls immediately said to me: we are happy that we can play hockey against Australia, because that team always finds it difficult to play against us. I told those girls to play with a free mind . Give everything so that at the end you can’t take another step.’
That’s what the players of India do. They fight for what they are worth. India even takes the lead halfway through the second quarter via Gurjit Kaur. Australia gives the impression that everything will be fine, but India is holding out. Relatively easy in the third quarter, but it gets difficult in the fourth quarter.
Marijne is no longer nervous. With his eyes frequently on the clock, he walks back and forth in the dug-out. Then quietly sits behind the billboard and then jumps up again and runs to the sidelines to provide his substitutes with the latest tips. Australia presses and presses. India seems to be collapsing. The girls in blue can no longer. A scoop from backwards comes at most twenty meters away and does not provide some air, but gives the go-ahead for a new Australian attack wave.
‘I have grown a lot older in this tournament in recent days’, Marijne confesses later. “I said to those girls: what are you doing to me every time.”
With three minutes left on the clock, Marijne and Schopman fire the Indian girls forward. But their words die in the empty Oi Hockey Stadium. With one minute to go, Marijne can breathe a sigh of relief. India has possession of the ball in the Australian half. Professionally they play full the last minute.
Then it’s party time. On the couch, Schopman and Marijne fly into each other’s arms. They scream, they cheer. Schopman sprints to the goalkeeper. Marijne storms onto the field, but in his emotion he doesn’t know who to run to. He grabs every Indian player and treats her to a hug. Finally, they dance and sing in a circle.
The Australian players fall to the ground around them. Full of disbelief. Lost to India. The number ten in the world. “It’s a dream come true, but we’re not done yet. We still have two games to play,” says Marijne. The first is the semi-final against Argentina, a team where India lost a friendly match in preparation.
A good omen, says Marijne at the press conference: ‘In 2009 I won my first world title with the Dutch Juniors. Then we lost in the preparation to Argentina and we won the final.’
He then speaks to the Indian press about a fairy tale. That started for him after an unexpected and painful dismissal from the Orange Ladies. As a result, he missed the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Now he is in the semifinals in Tokyo.
Apparently it should have been that way, says Marijne: ‘Sometimes things happen for a specific reason. I don’t want to be too philosophical, but I’m starting to understand that reason a bit.’