Pieter Cornelis Ruud van den Hoogenband (often shortened to Pieter van den Hoogenband) was born on March 14th, 1978 in Maastricht, Limburg, the Netherlands. The three-time Olympic champion, who has competed at a total of four Olympics, earned the moniker “the Flying Dutchman” due to his motherland and his proficiency in sprint events.
During his early life, his mother, a former European Junior Champion, coached the Dutch swim team. For years, his father has worked as a doctor for the football team of the club that Van den Hoogenband swam at in his youth, PSV Eindhoven. His father’s relationship to the team allowed his family to create a foundation to raise money to hire a trainer for the national swimming team. As the team progressed, Van den Hoogenband launched his career, landing at the 1996 Atlanta Games soon thereafter. Though he did not medal, the 18 year-old still finished fourth in the 100 and 200 freestyle.
2000 Olympic Games
But Van den Hoogenband truly rose to prominence at the turn of the century. After an astounding performance at European Championships in 1999, he entered the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as a favorite in the sprint free events. Van den Hoogenband earned a world record in the 100 free semi-finals – a record that went untouched for nearly eight years. In the finals, Van den Hoogenband stole the championship title from the 1992 and 1996 gold medalist, Alexander Popov. Much to the world’s surprise, he also set a record in the 200 free semis, and went on to the finals to defeat the “swimmer of the century,” Ian Thorpe of Australia. Van den Hoogenband also anchored the 4 x 200 free relay, for which the Dutch team earned a bronze medal, and he captured an individual bronze in the 50 free.
Van den Hoogenband garnered more attention for a strong performance at 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, where he gained a stack of four silver medals. Two years later, in Barcelona, Van den Hoogenband once again came away from Worlds with medals, but still without gold, losing to Popov in both the 50 and 100 freestyle, and to Thorpe in the 200. However, he achieved a 46.70 100-meter freestyle split in the medley relay. While sprinters Frederick Bousquet and Jason Lezak both bettered this time in 2008 in now-banned hi-tech suits, Van den Hoogenband’s split remains the fastest textile split in history.
2004 Olympic Games
In the months leading up to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, media attention focused on the 200-meter free. American legend, Michael Phelps, had arrived on the international scene, and, between him, the Thorpedo, and Van den Hoogenband – the reigning Olympic champion in the event – the 200 free was dubbed “The Race of the Century.” When Ian Thorpe won the event, Van den Hoogenband lifted his friend and rival’s arm over his head and cheered for him. Later, Van den Hoogenband and the Dutch team beat the Americans in the 4 x 100 free relay for silver (the gold went to South Africa). That accomplishment together with his silver to Phelps’ bronze in the 200 free makes “Hoogie” (as he is known in America) the only athlete to beat Phelps twice in Olympic competition, as of 2012.
While Van den Hoogenband did not swim at World Championships in 2005, he got married to Olympic medley swimmer, Minouche Smit, and began to focus on the idea of family life. In 2006, he won the 200 free and gathered another bronze for the 100 free at European Championships in Budapest. The last two years of his career were strong, but he remained in the backseat as American stars, like Phelps, filled the leader boards.
At the 2007 Worlds in Melbourne, Phelps overtook Van den Hoogenband in the 200 free, smashing his world record. However, Van den Hoogenband had happiness to look forward to at home – several months later, his wife gave birth to their first child. The next year, he went to Beijing, where he did not medal. He announced his plan to retire only minutes after he came in fifth in the 100-free final. At his official retirement that December, Ian Thorpe spoke in his honor. Van den Hoogenband and Smit’s second child was born the following September. Unfortunately, in 2012, the Olympic couple announced that they had filed for divorce.
Although he has not returned to the water competitively, Van den Hoogenband continues to swim recreationally, and has acted on a number of swimming committees in recent years. Shortly after his retirement, he was named ambassador of the 2010 International Paralympic Committee Swimming Championships, which took place in his training town of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Aside from organizing tournaments, such as the European Youth Olympic Festival, Van den Hoogenband worked as a commentator for Eurosport. In 2013, he was once again at Worlds in Barcelona, this time interviewing key personalities in the sport, including a then-retired Michael Phelps.
Van den Hoogenband remains one of the Netherlands’ most prominent swimmers, and the Dutch national swimming facility was renamed in his honor after his retirement. Throughout his career, he went to four Olympics, earning seven Olympic medals. He now continues to be involved in the swimming industry in many ways, volunteering with charities and attending meets both big and small, ensuring that the sport will always remain part of his life.
Originally developed by Alexandra Ashworth