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Aug 09 2023

“This championship is alive and kicking, we notice that people want to be here”

With sometimes even close to 100 spectators in the stands, the Dutch wheelchair basketball players completed their first training at the European Para Championships. “I thought about it, but that really never happens, that people also come to watch you train”, laughs Chèr Korver. “It does show that this championship is alive, that people really want to be there for everything. That promises something for our competitions.” And indeed, full stands are expected in Ahoy when the wheelchair basketball players, the paralympic champions of Tokyo 2021, are really in action this coming week.

The Dutch women, having just finished their training, are in very good spirits. They have been training well, under the guidance of national coach Gertjan van der Linden. Moreover, they are looking forward to the European Championship. “Nice games in front of our own audience.” The conditions to perform fine are present. “There really is a beautiful floor here”, agree Chèr Korver (46), Mariska Beijer (32) and Jitske Visser (30). They have already played all over the world, but in their own country a top floor has been laid. “Without dead spots, where the ball suddenly doesn’t bounce”, Mariska remarked. “And also nice and smooth, without bumps”, Chèr said.

Being paralympic champions obviously brings something extra. The women are expected to win the European Championships again. The confidence to indeed do so is there. “Pressure? No, it doesn’t bother me that much. Pressure is something you mainly just always put on yourself, which is a waste, wasted energy”, said Chèr, who acknowledges that the basketball women are “one of the top acts at this European Championship. We have that status of title favorite now. That’s not because someone forced it on us but because we earned it ourselves”, Jitske laughs.

“But”, Mariska also knows, “although we are undefeated six tournaments in a row now, haven’t lost a single game, it could also be just different if we fail once. We have to stay sharp for 40 minutes every game.”

Therefore, this week the focus is entirely on their own performance, and the women are less concerned with what is happening in the other sports. However, it does not take away from their awareness that they are at a historic event. Mariska: “I am well aware that we are more or less going to make history now.”

Chèr Korver calls the ambiance in Ahoy “fantastic. It all looks particularly beautiful. Everything has been thought of, the conditions for a wonderful week have been created.” The fact that they are at an event with nine other sports, as is the case at the Paralympic Games, for example, makes them happy. Mariska likes running into athletes from other sports at the hotel. And Jiske also says she can appreciate the collective feeling of TeamNL. “Of course the focus is mainly on our own tournament, but I definitely plan to check out others the last two days, when we are finished ourselves.” She might even pick up 15 minutes of boccia, goalball or judo in the coming days after practice.

Chèr says she “cannot estimate exactly” whether these European Para Championships “come at exactly the right time. For that I don’t know the situation of the other sports well enough. But wheelchair basketball has developed quite far by now.” The selection has the A-top sport status from NOC*NSF, can fully focus on the Paralympics and other tournaments. “Perhaps, thanks to this joint European Championship, other sports will pull themselves up to us and make some strides themselves here.”

For the next few days, they are especially looking forward to the packed stands, with lots of orange. With many familiar faces. In recent years they have traveled all over the world for important tournaments. Japan, Brazil, Canada, just recently they were in Dubai. The last major tournament in their own country was the 2019 European Championship. Mariska: “Family and friends always travel with us, but here there will probably be more coming to watch now.” Jitske can already look forward to it. “It’s nice when the people who don’t see us that often, but know what we do and do for it all, can witness our games for once.”

Schedule of Dutch wheelchair basketball women at European Para Championships

August 11, 5:30 p.m: Netherlands-France

August 12, 10 a.m: Netherlands-Germany

August 13, 8 p.m: Netherlands-Turkey

August 14, 4.30 p.m: Netherlands-Spain

August 15, 8 p.m: Netherlands-Great Britain

August 16: semi-finals

August 18: finals

Schedule Dutch wheelchair basketball men at European Para Championships

August 11, 8 p.m: Netherlands-Latvia

August 12, 11.30 a.m: Netherlands-Spain

August 13, 12.30 p.m: Netherlands-Switzerland

August 14, 7 p.m: Netherlands-Germany

August 15, 3 p.m: Netherlands-Poland

August 16: quarter-finals

August 17: semifinals

August 19: finals

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