by Jesse Wieten
ARNHEM, the Netherlands, July 16 (Xinhua) -- At the 2008 Olympic Games, the Dutch women captured their second gold medal by beating China 2-0 in the final and the team is among the favorites again for London.
Since the golden moment of Beijing, the Netherlands captured two European titles in 2009 and 2011 and finished second behind Argentina at the 2010 World Cup.
"The past is the past, the present is the present," Dutch head coach Max Caldas said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"I think that eight to ten teams are actually probably going to play for the medals at this Olympic Games. I think we are going to be between these teams. It's going to be very close. I think we are up to it."
"A lot of teams are in contention. We hope to be one of them and China will probably one of them as well," Caldas added. "They are much more physical, much more drilled than we are. We have more freedom in the way we play. It looks for them is different, but they are really a skillful, fit and fast team, they use that in their advantage."
The most memorable Dutch performance of recent years was the Olympic victory of the Dutch women in 2008. Marilyn Agliotti was there. Although she was born in South Africa, the forward opted to switch to the Dutch national team since 2007. Compared to the situation in her motherland she knows all about the specialness of this Dutch hockey culture.
"So much talent is walking around," Agliotti told Xinhua. "The more people play hockey, the more talent you will find. And that is a growing circle. Holland is in a unique position because of that. It's what makes the difference. In other countries they play hockey on school first and only go to clubs on senior level. Here it is basically in your blood that's how the kids grow up."
Maartje Paumen is one of the products of the Dutch hockey tradition. Just like Agliotti she was part of the Dutch squad that captured Olympic gold in Beijing. She was topscorer of the tournament with eleven goals. But she was not satisfied yet and since the Games she even ameliorated her level. In 2011 she was named the world's best hockey player of the year and in London she will be captain of the Dutch team.
"Since I was eighteen years old I was playing for the national team," Paumen explained to Xinhua. "But three years ago I made a decision in my life to do everything for my sport and reach the highest level I can reach. I made up some things in my mind and changed some things. I think two years ago I finally had the feeling I can play hockey really good, better than before in the six years at the national team. I am more strong now, more fit. I am feeling really good now."
"In the beginning I liked everything next to hockey," Paumen continued. "Doing lots of things next to the field when I want to go out I went out, did my school, going out with friends, a lot of things, not only hockey. Two, three years ago I choose totally for my sport and did everything for it. I decided to do everything for hockey. Now I just live to play hockey. Last year I did not do anything for university. Just hockey and also in my mind just hockey."
Compared to Beijing the Netherlands have a new coach, Caldas instead of Marc Lammers, and eight new players. Agliotti thinks the desire for another gold remained the same.
"There is so much will, even from the young girls coming into the team," she declared. "Everybody wants to have a part of the celebration we had four years ago. For us the girls who were there and the new girls it's just we want to repeat it and try to make something really special about London and see if we can get two golds."
After football hockey is the most popular team sports in the Netherlands. The whole hockey women's team was cheering in front of the television for their football compatriots at Euro 2012. Unfortunately the Dutch went out in the group phase.
"We all like watching the football," Agliotti concluded. "It's nice to compare yourself with other teams. We were watching the last tournament. it's a pity Holland did not do well. It's up to us to make sure to restore some orange pride in the summer."
Special Report: London Olympics 2012