Marrit Steenbergen: Why the Dutch relays are suddenly among the scariest in the world

The huge take-home from day 1 of the Baku European Games has been the explosive swimming of Dutch teenager Marrit Steenbergen. 

Steenbergen has been on the edge of greatness for awhile now, but Baku has to serve as her official “breakout” meet on the international stage. On day 1, Steenbergen blasted a 53.97 in semifinals of the 100 free, rattling the Junior World Record.

And she wasn’t done yet. Later in the evening, Steenbergen anchored the Dutch relay in a blistering 53.00, powering her team from fourth to second.

Those are big-league times, the type that would put Steenbergen into the driver’s seat for a relay spot on even the toughest of world relays.

In fact, Steenbergen’s ascension means she very likely will be a part of one of the world’s best relays shortly. The Dutch are building up an outstanding sprint corps, and could even be reaching a stratosphere in the 4×100 free relay that only Australia currently occupies.

The Dutch were second at last summer’s European Championships in the 4×100 free relay, but that was without Olympic gold medalist Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who bowed out of the meet in advance. That left a lot of burden on current world leader Femke Heemskerk, who swam admirably, but couldn’t hold off Sweden’s otherworldly Sarah Sjostrom in the closing meters.

With Kromowidjojo back in action at the Doha Short Course Worlds, though, the Dutch were unstoppable, winning all three gold medals in the free relays and breaking world records with each swim.

Obviously, short course and long course are two different animals, and the Dutch domination in Doha was majorly aided by the absence of Australia’s Campbell sisters. But Steenbergen’s emergence might be enough for the Dutch to give Australia a run for its money, if not this summer, then by the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The Aussie roster is loaded, with Cate and Bronte Campbell representing probably the best 1-2 punch in the world in the 100 free, combining with strong depth – there’s a reason the Aussies smashed the world record at Commonwealth Games last summer, going over five seconds faster than the Dutch would at Euros.

But there’s reason to believe the Dutch could match up favorably on nearly every leg. Here’s a quick look at the likely competitors for each team:

*Note: Australia’s depth means we could see a few of these legs swapped out, with perhaps Brittany Elmslie or even Madison Wilson getting into the hunt. For now, we’ll use the returning legs from Australia’s world record-setting relay last year.

Cate Campbell vs. Femke Heemskerk

This is the slugfest. Currently tied for the lead in our season-long World Rankings, Campbell and Heemskerk are on the short list of gold medal favorites in the individual 100 free in both Kazan and Rio. Very much a tossup here.

Bronte Campbell vs. Ranomi Kromowidjojo

The younger Campbell sister has been faster this season, but Kromowidjojo has the better lifetime-best by about a tenth, and her three Olympic gold medals in 2012 have to count for something.

Melanie (Schlanger) Wright vs. Marrit Steenbergen

Steenbergen is obviously less of a proven commidity, but at just 15 years old, she probably has more upside at this point in her career, too. Wright (known as Mel Schlanger last summer before getting married) was 52.76 on that world record-setting relay; Steenbergen was 53.00 at European Games this week. How much will that split change by Rio? That’s hard to predict.

Emma McKeon vs. Inge Dekker

This is probably the biggest advantage for Australia, with that depth really showing through. McKeon was a lifetime-best 53.32 just last month and still seems to be on the rise. Dekker is a star in the short course World Cup setting, but can she keep things close enough long course to give her teammates a shot?


It’s no surprise that these two federations are dominating the world ranks in the 100 free right now. Australia currently has 5 of the top 8 swimmers in the world, and with Steenbergen, the Netherlands has 3 in the top 11:

2014-2015 LCM Women 100 Free

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7 years ago

Forget height and coaching….both of these countries foster the idea that you do athletics because you love it! Bottom line, these girls really love to swim and race.

7 years ago

DDIAS abbey weitzeil is listed at 5,10. Some people look bigger than they actually are.

7 years ago

van der meer sorry

7 years ago

Floppy Maud van der meet is 5,11. I thought Missy franklin is 6,1.

Reply to  carlo
7 years ago

Thanks. I went off wikipedia.

For European reference:
6’2″ = 1.88 m
6’0″ = 1.83 m
5’10” = 1.78 m
5’8″ = 1.73 m

Still interesting how my post of lies and slander has all UP votes, and my post of facts has all DOWN votes…

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

Often, facts tell a very insincere and duplicitous story, Floppy. Stating facts is all well and good, it can be helpful, but most of the time you have to dig deeper.

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

Maybe USA swimming is not updated but Abbey Weitzeil looks very big.

Reply to  carlo
7 years ago

Missy is very tall actually , one of the tallest young swimmers in the world .

7 years ago

The Netherlands may have a mighty relay, but time is not on their side. It is hard to expect 25+ year olds to drop a lot more time. Not to mention, the Aussie and American depth gives them a lot more room for error/injury/missed tapers.

Dekker: 1985, 6’0″ – 54.3
Kromo: 1990, 5’10” – 53.6
Heems: 1987, 5’11” – 52.6
Steenb: 2000, 5’10” – 53.9
vdMeer: 1992, ??? – 54.6

C Camp: 1992, 6’1″ – 52.6
B Camp: 1994, 5’10” – 52.8
McKeon: 1994, 5’10” – 53.3
(S)Wright: 1986, 5’9″ – 53.5
?Elmslie: 1994, 5’10” – 53.6
? Kukla: 1995, 5’6″ – 54.3
? Coutts: 1987, 5’9″ – 54.4
… Read more »

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

I love it! Do a bunch of research, share it, and the first thing I get is a down vote! Thanks internet!
You would think I posted a litany of libelous lies about these ladies. Like:

– Cate Campbell eats a kitten for breakfast. Every day.
– Femke Heemskerk is a proud member of House Slitherin.
– In Beijing, Natalie Coughlin replaced the toilet paper with rolls of sand paper!
– Ranomi Kromowidjojo listens to Avril Lavigne. And likes it!
– Inge Dekker told her boyfriend Vladimir Putin she hates Ukrainians.
– Lia Neal broke up One Direction!
– Alicia Coutts killed the last known African White Rhinoceros.
– Allison Schmitt helped… Read more »

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

A little disingenuous to name Kukla & Jack I’d say – One hasn’t pushed on since 2010 is actually probably now slower than she was back then… The other, while still very young, seems to also be slowing in her progression, possibly because she was ahead of her age peers developmentally from a young age. Coutts is looking questionable, while I wouldn’t write her off, I’d not be confident of her freestyle prowess these days. Australia do still have a superb group, the best in the world, in the Campbell’s, McKeon, Schlanger & Elmslie – Albeit missing Elmslie this year.

Femke Heemskerk, while 27, is swimming faster than she ever has, so to suggest she can’t drop more time is… Read more »

Reply to  floppy
7 years ago

Your AUS listing includes one who is still someway off making even an alternate berth (Jack); one who’s technical limitations render her unlikely to ever return to international competition (Kukla) but overlook the one who WILL almost certainly swim heats in Kazan. Namely Madi Wilson who advances in the 100back have also been mirrored in FS with a PB of 54.07 at this years Trials.

7 years ago

Jared, I WOULD suggest some fact-checking before publishing. Kromowidjojo was NOT faster than C2 in 2014. C2 was 3rd faster for the year at 52.86, Heemskerk was the fastest of the Dutch (4th in world) at 53.19. Kromowidjojo has not been sub53 since 2013. She may get back down there but her times so far this year haven’t exactly suggested it.

I do agree that Steenbergen has an immense upside but whilst her 53flat anchor is very creditable, especially for her age, it’s not necessarily going to “seal the deal” for a medal in the World final.

Whilst I don’t see the Dutch currently threatening the Australian’s in this relay (barring a break or 2 or more Australians putting in… Read more »

bobo gigi
7 years ago

Women’s 4X100 free relay final. Steenbergen’s 53.00 anchor split.

bobo gigi
7 years ago

Not a coincidence 2 “small” countries like Netherlands and Australia produce year after year so many great female sprinters.
Perhaps USA, France and other big swimming nations could learn from them and look at their training methods.
I don’t know if they have secrets but when I see that young Dutch sprinter, I see a 15-year-old girl with already a long and smooth stroke. It’s clear that she has focused a lot on her technique. And of course she doesn’t train in a bathtub 9 months per year.

Reply to  bobo gigi
7 years ago

Coaching, coaching, coaching!

If you watch Kromowidjojo (2012), Heemskerk or Steenbergen underwater you have the key to their success. Jacco (until leaving), Christiaan, Marcel & Frank have all done great things with the Dutch sprinters. I also wonder if due to the limited talent pool, the Dutch have a more specific and intense talent ID program in order to locate and support athletes who have what it takes? An effective program with 10 athletes will always be more successful than an ineffective one with 100, right? I noticed watching athletics recently, while the Dutch have very little depth, they have one very good athlete in nearly all track events (and they are the best in the world in the… Read more »

Reply to  bobo gigi
7 years ago

Australia , a small country ? u must be kidding on this one . Holland is fairly small , like Belgium but Australia is one of the biggest countries on the planet . Anyway , the Dutch won’t beat Australia on the 400 free relay in Kazan neither in Rio . The Aussies have the best team they have ever assembled for that relay . The battle will be between Usa & the Dutch for the silver … this summer .

M Palota
7 years ago

Australia is a “small” country when one is referencing population. It has a population of around 20 million to Holland’s 16 million.

7 years ago

thanks for thz down votes dear throlls , it’s anyway not gonna change my predictions for this summer for this relay . Keep bringing them , it’s motivating

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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