Series: Olympic Games

En route to Paris: Sean Niewold

In July, the Olympic Games will be held in Paris. TU Delft top athletes are ready to compete. What are their lives like and are they ready? Part 8: swimmer Sean Niewold.

(Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Your journey to the Olympic Games was not easy. You had to leave the national team at the beginning of September and had to look for a new place to train. What has happened since then?

“I went back to WVZ in Zoetermeer, my old club, for part of the time and trained at Feijenoord Albion Zwemclub in Rotterdam the rest of the time. I have trained full time in Rotterdam since February. The club has a different training ideology than the national team. In the Netherlands we are used to swimming a lot of metres at a slower pace. At Albion, I swim fewer metres but go much faster. It is explosive and speed is what counts. This training method worked for me.”

Did you always think that you would get to the Olympics?

“When I did not make the national team, qualifying for the Olympics seemed out of reach. It was only when I started training at Albion that it seemed a possibility. I made good progress and was positive about qualifying for the relay race team. But I got sick just when I was supposed to qualify (at the Eindhoven Qualification Meet in April, Eds.). I did swim, but did not swim fast enough.”

‘I miss a lot of exams because of competitions and training camps’

But you did do so at the National Championships in Amersfoort. It was your last chance to qualify. The Olympic minimum for the 100 freestyle is 48.34 seconds. Up to then you had not swum below 48.69 seconds, but at the National Championships you clocked 48.14 seconds. That is the second fastest time in the Netherlands ever. How did this suddenly happen?

“The race went really well. I sped along, didn’t tire and quickly outswum the number two by 10 metres. When I was the first to touch the end, I looked at the board and only saw my time. Two-tenths below the Olympic minimum. I could not believe it. I was so relieved! Everything fell into place during the race.”

What motivated you to go on, despite the setbacks?

“It’s very simple: I wanted to go to the Olympics. So you do everything you can to do your best in each training session and every race.”

What do you expect from the Olympics?

“To be honest, I don’t really know what I expect. I have never been to a world championship, so I have no idea what it will be like at such a big competition. I will mostly go and enjoy it.”

What do you think your chances are?

“It is hard to reach the finals as an individual. If I set a new personal record, I may reach the semifinals. We have more of a chance in the relay race team. We should be able to reach the finals and maybe even win a medal.”

You are studying Mechanical Engineering. How do you combine your studies and sport?

“I don’t. It’s virtually impossible. I am now in my fourth year and should be ready, but I miss a lot of exams because of competitions and training camps. The Faculty of Mechanical Engineering does not make an exception for me as it is my choice to swim. If I pass two subjects this quarter, I could get my bachelor’s next year. But it does mean that I will have to miss a training camp with the Olympic team to do my exams. That is not nice for them, but if I have exams I will do them. Even now.”

Your girlfriend, swimmer Tessa Giele, is also going to the Olympics. What is it like to share a life as top athletes with her?

“It’s incredible. We’ve come full circle. We went through everything together over the last two years. We moved to Amsterdam together for the national team, were then rejected and moved back to Rotterdam together. We share the same goal, the Olympic Games. It could not be better.”

Who: Sean Niewold
Date of birth: 20 April 2002
Study: Mechanical Engineering (bachelor)
Sport: Swimming
Student association: Feijenoord Albion Zwemclub, Rotterdam
Discipline: Freestyle and butterfly sprint
Status: Qualified for the 100 metre freestyle, men’s 4 x 100 metre medley relay and a substitute for the mixed 4 x 100 metres.

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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