She couldn't handle her reserve role at the water polosters and stopped due to motivation problems, but two years later Debby Willemsz is still there at Tokyo.

The goalkeeper is an important force in the Dutch team, which has qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time since the sensational gold in 2008.

"The feeling of having to go is gone."

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Two years ago, she sat around the table with a number of players with whom Debby Willemsz is now preparing for the Games.

It was when she was suddenly back at Orange, after she thanked her and had no contact with the selection for months.

"Then I said: I'm back and I have exactly the same goal that you have and that is the Games. If you want to say something to me, do it now and not next week," she says.

Conversations followed.

"Certainly we sat down with the keepers for a while. But after that it was actually normal again pretty quickly, as if I hadn't been away."

The water polo after winning the Olympic ticket at the OKT in Trieste.

The water polo after winning the Olympic ticket at the OKT in Trieste.

Photo: Pro Shots

The conversations were the end of a strange and not always pleasant period for Willemsz.

For years she had been the number one in the Orange squad, culminating in three stopped penalties against defending champions Italy at the 2014 European Championship. But since Laura Aarts' entry into the selection, she increasingly had to settle for a role as a reserve goalkeeper.

"At first I saw an important role for me. I was a mood maker and did everything for Laura on the side, so that she could deliver the optimum performance. I kept that up for quite a long time, because in the end no one is satisfied with a roll on the couch, especially when you consider how much time and energy you put into it."

And then, in the spring of 2019, it was ready…

"Yes, that was the moment that I really couldn't take it anymore. I was unhappy, water polo became an obligation. I couldn't go out with friends anymore and I wasn't allowed to drink wine anymore. Normally I have no problem with that, but that started I was very frustrated because as a reserve goalkeeper there was no reward. I didn't get any satisfaction from it anymore."

Have you considered not only stopping at Orange, but also at club level?

"No, I really wanted to show that I am a good goalkeeper and quickly decided that I also wanted to do things that made me really happy."

Debby Willemsz (left) next to teammate Brigitte Sleeking.

Debby Willemsz (left) next to teammate Brigitte Sleeking.

Photo: Getty Images

One of those things was a transfer to Spain, where Willemsz signed for the second time with CN Mataró.

"Everything was settled pretty quickly and I had already brought my stuff there."

Ultimately, it did not come to a transfer to Spain.

The story took a turn because Aerts also ended her international career in August 2019.

Although she had a basic place at Orange, she also struggled with motivation problems.

For example, Havenga was forced to ask Willemsz to return four months after her departure.

And this time with a starting spot in the offing.

The keeper didn't have to think long, although she found it difficult to say no to CN Mataró.

"To play for the Dutch team, it was better to play in the Netherlands. I thought that was a difficult message for CN Mataró, especially because I wanted to go there myself. But yes, I had to. I was there quickly I was not quite finished with the Dutch team after all. I wanted to go to the Games and of course I knew that I now had a much better chance to actually play. It felt like a second chance."

Does water polo still feel like an obligation?



"The feeling of having to go is gone. I feel more free in the choices besides training. In top sport everyone tells you what you must and especially what you are not allowed to do, but if I now want a glass of wine or a frikandel, I eat or drink I do know that I don't have to do that every week, that's the nuance I've brought in now. And that's very nice."

Debby Willemsz returns a bet.

Debby Willemsz returns a bet.

Photo: ANP

Do you now see teammates around you as you used to live?



"Certainly, we sometimes talk about that. Certainly a number of younger teammates really live with blinders on. Their lives are completely dominated by water polo. I have only respect for that, it has brought them to where they are now. are."

Is the Olympic adventure in Tokyo your highlight of your career, or is that still one of your medals from the European Championship?

"No doubt. Tokyo has been the pinnacle so far. The whole road you've had to travel and all that you've had to put aside from childhood, it finally pays off in an Olympic ticket. This is what I'm for I have come back. Although I hope that my participation in a week or two will no longer be the absolute highlight."