Thirteen chances at Olympic fame

Meet the UU students who will compete in the Paris Olympics

Olympische Helden 2024 Foto's KNHB, Shutterstock, illustratie DUB
Photos by KNHB, Shutterstock. Illustration: DUB

“Twelve years ago, I was in the stands in London with my family. Being able to go to the Olympics myself now is such a childhood dream.” Tjep Hoedemakers has been working as a PhD candidate at UMC for over a year. He’s doing part-time research on arm thrombosis. After the Olympic Games, he will have to finish a Master’s programme in Rotterdam as well. 

The striker for the top team Rotterdam is joining the Dutch field hockey team in Paris. Earlier this month, the researcher in training received the long-awaited phone call from the national coach. “It was nerve-wracking. I’d been injured for a long time. I’d missed out on the European Championships, which the Netherlands won. But, thankfully, I got picked now.”

The UU PhD candidate can partially attribute his selection to a special talent: the "suicide run-out". During the opponent’s penalty corner, he runs forward as fast as possible to shield the largest possible area of the goal, risking getting hit by a pretty hardball. That’s why he wears reinforced shin guards and shoes. During the run-out itself, he also wears a mask, a jockstrap and knee protectors. “You have to be a little bit insane for this, but I trained hard for it. And, thankfully, that’s paying off now.”

Hoedemakers thinks that, in Paris, the Dutch team should go for nothing less than gold. “We’re number one on the world ranking. You have to dare to voice that ambition. But, in men’s hockey, there are more serious contenders than in women’s hockey. Belgium, Australia, England... They might perform very well. And you never know what India’s going to do either.”

In the hospital, he's been receiving a lot of support from his supervisory team and other PhD candidates. Some doctors will even be in the stands in Paris. “There are quite some field hockey lovers around. They get really excited, too.”

Tjep Hoedemakers Foto: Hockeyconnect

Tjep Hoedemakers. Photo: Hockeyconnect

More than in Tokyo 
Tjep Hoedemakers is one of the thirteen UU students*, PhD candidates and alumni who will be in Paris this month, aiming for Olympic glory. That makes the UU delegation bigger than the one that participated in the Olympic Games in Tokyo when ten contestants were current or former UU students. 

Aside from Hoedemakers, Law alumnus Thierry Brinkman is also a member of the men’s field hockey team. He was on the team four years ago as well. Although he claimed the Netherlands was a favourite for the title before he left for Japan, that edition of the Olympics ended in a disappointing result: the Netherlands placed sixth. 

Although, in the past, there have been quite a few UU hockey players participating in Olympic Games, no UU student or graduate has ever won gold. No UU students or PhD candidates were in the "golden team" that joined the Olympic Games of 1996 and 2000.

Successful ladies
The Dutch field hockey women are the reigning Olympic champions and will try to defend their title. The team heading towards Paris includes three players linked to UU. 

Frédérique Matla is a Master’s student of Social Psychology. She played in Tokyo but wasn’t a UU student at the time. Marijn Veen had to call off her Olympic adventure four years ago due to physical issues, but will now be present – with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in the pocket. Bachelor’s student of Information Sciences Luna Fokke is also joining. 

Goalkeeper and Law alumna Josine Koning, who was the first choice for the Dutch team four years ago, will now join as the first substitute. Psychology student Elzemiek Zandee and Law student Eline Jansen unfortunately did not make the final selection. 

Historically speaking, female field hockey players are by far the most successful UU athletes at the Olympic Games. Including Matla and Koning, eight UU students and alumni have won gold medals in the past. Recent economics graduate Caia van Maasakker is the most successful UU Olympian of all time, with two golden Olympic medals (London 2012 and Tokyo 2021) and one silver (Rio 2016). 

Aside from field hockey, rowing is another sport that UU students excel in. Still, they have never won any golden medals. Triton rowers Jacob van de Kerkhof, PhD student at the Faculty of Law, and Eli Brouwer, student of Bioinformatics and Biocomplexity, hope to change that. Fellow Triton member Pieter van Veen is a substitute; a thankless role that Van de Kerkhof fulfilled four years ago. 

Going for gold with Femke Bol 
Four track and field athletes with UU roots have managed to snag a spot in Paris. Two of them have a serious chance of winning a medal. Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences graduate Cathelijn Peeters is part of the fast Dutch 4 x 400 relay team with Femke Bol. Discus thrower and alumna of Liberal Arts and Sciences Jorinde van Klinken recently won second place in the European Championship and is going for a podium spot in Paris as well.

A notable Utrecht participant is Eloi Adjavon, who graduated from University College Utrecht ten years ago and is the first triathlete representing the country of Togo at the Olympic Games in Paris. Adjavon previously said in an interview on UU's website that he wanted to be an inspiration for young African athletes.

Hurdler and UU alumnus of Business Informatics Nick Smidt will be joining the Olympics for the second time and will try to make it to the finals. Marathon runner Anne Luijten also saw her dream of going to Paris come true. Luijten graduated with a Master’s in Sustainable Development at UU in 2019. 

The thirteenth UU Olympian will be competing in the Olympic Games for the third time. Mountainbiker Anne Terpstra won fifteenth place in Rio, fifth place in Tokyo, and now counts as an outsider for the podium in Paris. Terpstra graduated from Utrecht University with a Bachelor's in Medicine. 

* DUB's editors tried to make a list of all Olympic participants linked to UU, but there’s no guarantee that this overview is complete. To view all students and graduates who have participated in the Olympics, find a historical overview of Olympian heroes here (in Dutch only). Did we forget anyone? Please let us know.


Caia van Maasakker

Who has won golden medals? These are the most successful UU students and graduates in the Olympics:

Caia van Maasakker (Hockey / Economics) - gold 2012, silver 2016, gold 2021

Marilyn Agliotti (Hockey / Philosophy) - gold 2008, gold 2012

Eefke Mulder (Hockey / Law)  - gold 2008, silver 2004
Laurien Leurink ( Hockey / Psychology) - gold 2021, silver 2016

Anneloes Nieuwenhuizen (Hockey / Dutch) - gold 1984, bronze 1988

Wieke Dijkstra (Hockey / Governance) - gold 2008
Josine Koning (Hockey / Law) - gold 2021
Frédérique Matla (Hockey / Psychology) - gold 2021
Selma Poutsma (Shorttrack / Liberal Arts & Sciences - gold 2022
Alette Sijbring (Waterpolo/Medicine) - gold 2008
Maarten van der Weijden (Swimming/Maths) - gold 2008