‘Learn from the moments where it has gone wrong.’ Rutger Smit – Olympic athletes interviewed 49

Rutger Smit, is not only triple Olympian but also competed in 2 disciplines. Rutger reveals the one thing that has chased him throughout his career and the lost opportunities he experienced.

Rutger outlines how he struggled with 3 severe injuries throughout his career, and how managed to come back from these injuries, because he didn’t want to end his career with an injury. And why he believes in  the importance of planning to set yourself up for success.

Furthermore, we discuss

Part 2 of the interview

Christian: Today I’m joined by Rutger Smit, triple Olympian who competed in 2 disciplines, the shot put and the discus throw at the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens, the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing, where he reached the final in the shot put, as well as in the discus throw, and the London 2012 Olympics.

More achievement, you were the first one to win a medal at the World Champs in both disciplines, the shot put and the discus throw, correct?

Rutger: Yes, correct. At the World Championships in 2005, I won a silver medal in the shot put, and at the World Championships in 2007 I won a bronze medal in the shot put and the discus throw. At that 2007 World Championships, I actually finished 4th, but years later, I received the bronze medal, because a competitor in front of me got caught on doping and I moved up.

So in total, I won three World Championships medals and yes, the first and only one so far that medaled in both events, the shot put and discus throw.

Christian: That would have been my question, to date you’re still the only one?

Rutger: Yes, I’m still the only one.

Christian: That’s a nice record for people to chase.

Rutger: Yes, absolutely.

Christian: In addition to that, you have won multiple medals at European Champs. Welcome.

Rutger: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

His darkest moment 

Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Rutger:  I have three dark moments throughout my careers, three major injuries. One early in my career when I was 19 years old, I tore my pec during a bench press session. That was something that hit me hard at the moment.

It was tough to deal with on such a young age. A year before, I became World Junior Champion in the shot put and I was third in the discus throw. So I had a bright future ahead of me, but all of a sudden at the senior level, it stopped abruptly.

I had a bright future ahead of me, but all of a sudden at the senior level, it stopped abruptly.

It was not an end, but a stop and that was hard to deal with at such a young age, but I had a good surgery, good rehab and eventually less than 12 months later, I threw a PR [personal record] in the shot put.

I had just a great recovery, and the recovering time for an injury like that was relatively short. I was young, so in general, recovery goes a little bit faster.

Then a second major injury that I had was ongoing back problems. That came up after the Olympic games in 2008, where I had two final places. Looking back, it had also a lot to do with something private situation.

My father was really sick, he had cancer and died two years later in 2010. It was just a rough time personally, and if I look back, there was not a specific place in my back where I could point to and also in tests, there was not a specific place in my back where they could find an injury. It was weird.

Research has also proven that you, as a human being, you save your memories of your emotions in your back. So back problems very often have to do with emotions. And I have to say two years later when my father passed away, quite fast after that, I had no problems anymore.

My back problem literally stopped from one day to another day. For me, that is a proof that it had to do with my emotional state in those two years, where I had to see my father suffering. It’s just real hard for every human being.

You save your memories of your emotions in your back, so back problems very often have to do with emotions. And when my father passed away, my back problem stopped from one day to another day. For me, that is a proof that it had to do with my emotional state in those two years, where I had to see my father suffering.

Then the last one of the three dark moments, and also very tough to deal with, because it was in the end of my career in 2013. I tore my Achilles tendon. The rehab was tough, because I had a re-rupture, and needed a second surgery, so it took even longer. At that moment, I was afraid, that it could mean it would end my career, because if you look at other athletes that tore their Achilles tendon, not a lot come back from it.

I was 32 years and for an explosive sport as the shot put and the discus throw, it is very hard to come back from, because it is a tendon that you use a lot in your sport. But I’m happy to say it took a while, but I’m happy to say that I recovered from it and in 2016, I made it to the European Championships and I made the final at the European Championships in the discus throw, so, I was very happy with that.

So, if I look back these were my three darkest moments throughout my career.

How he was unable to compete for 3 years, right after he had his biggest success 

Christian: I’ve noted down one thing here and you mentioned a little bit of that before. It seems like you had your biggest success at the Olympics in 2008, making two Olympic finals and right after that you got injured and couldn’t compete for three years?

Rutger: Yes, I didn’t compete in 2009 and in 2010, and I came back on the stage in 2011. A funny note is that in 2011, I threw my PR [personal record] in the discuss throw.

So, coming back from that heavy back injury, and a heavy emotional period with my father  being sick and passing away, I came back and threw a PR, I was pretty proud of that.

Coming back from that heavy back injury, and a heavy emotional period with my father  being sick and passing away, I came back and threw a PR, I was pretty proud of that.

I didn’t make the finals at the World Championships in that year, but I was very happy with my PR [personal record]. Then in 2012, I had a good following season by medaling at the European Championships in shot put and discus throw; I became second in shot put, and third in discus.

Then the European Championships 2012 were a month before the Olympic Games in London. In that month, I got injured, a very light injury in my groin area; however, very important for a discus thrower and shot putter, so I had to take the intensity back in that important period before the Olympics.

I can say now, I was not in my best shape at the Olympic Games in London 2012. That was frustrating because the European Championships, the month before, I was not in my best shape, but I won two medals, so I was really excited for the Olympic Games, but unfortunately I got a slight injury.

Christian: And I saw that in one of these two events at the European Champs, if you would have had the same result, you would have been Olympic Champion.

Rutger: I am not entirely sure, but at least I would have won a medal. At the Beijing 2008 Olympics, out of my head the gold medal performance in the shot put was 21,52 meters and I have thrown certain distances before in major championships, where it would have been good for gold.

Christian: That’s how life is at times.

Rutger: Yes, and that also says everything about shot put and discus throw. The top is so close and difference are made within centimeters sometimes. If I go back to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, in the discus throw, the difference between the gold medal and the number three, was within 24 centimeters. And then we talk about 68 meters, and the difference between gold and silver was just 9 centimeters. It’s just crazy.

Christian: I also saw that in 2008, you finished as number seven, with a result, that was just centimeter short of the number six. It’s crazy, small increments and margins.

The one thing that chased him throughout his entire career

Rutger: Yes, and I will go back to your first question dark moments, I was talking about my injuries, but what has chased me throughout my career is also doping. Not for me, but my competitors that we’re ahead of me and years later, they got caught on doping, and they got life ban, because they retested their urine samples.

I won seven international medals and three of them I got nine years later, after that particular Championships where I finished fourth and I should have gotten the bronze medal. At the Olympic Games in 2008, if you look at the official results in shot put, I’m on a sixth-place now, but I finished ninth.

That means three competitors of me have been caught on doping by retests and I moved up from ninth place to the sixth place. But the most frustrating thing is, in athletics, in track and field, the top 12 go to the final. So, you have a qualification round, most of the time there are about 32 guys that compete, but the top 12 goes to the final.

Most of the time the final is a day or two days later. The top 12 gets three attempts, but the top 8 in that final, get another three attempts. At the Beijing 2008 Olympics, I finished 9th, 1 centimeter behind number 8 and eventually now officially I finished in 6th place, but I missed my three extra attempts. Three attempts where I could have thrown maybe Olympic gold.

The top 12 get three attempts, but the top 8 in that final, get another three attempts. At the Beijing 2008 Olympics, I finished 9th, 1 centimeter behind number 8, and eventually now officially I finished in 6th place, but I missed my three extra attempts. Three attempts where I could have thrown maybe Olympic gold.

If I look back at frustration throughout my career, that is one thing that comes out very strong and that makes me angry in a way too.

Christian: I can believe that.

Rutger: To be honest, finishing 4th and 3rd, there is not a big difference. Of course, 4th place is very frustrating and you’re not celebrating on a podium where you should have been.

But, in my opinion, I was still one of the leading roles in that competition. Everybody was looking also at me, because I was so close to the number three. two and one.

So, competing-wise, you care, but it’s not as frustrating as missing out on three attempts, where I had the shape to throw a big distance and that could have been a gold, silver or bronze medal at the Olympics and that frustrates me a lot.

Christian: Yes, I do believe that, because retrospectively you don’t get the attempts.

Rutger: No, I will never get them back. It’s literally a lost opportunity.

Christian: You move up places in raking result, but you are not getting the attempts you should have gotten.

Rutger: Yes.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Rutger: My medals and also the finals where I performed well. In 2005, I won my first World Championship medal and if I have to pick one, I pick that moment. It was also a big step for the rest of my career, where I competed in won other medals. It was a confirmation that I was one of the best in the world at that moment of time and it freed me of the pressure of winning a medal at a major championship.

It was a confirmation, that I was one of the best in the world and it freed me of the pressure of winning a medal at a major championship.

From that moment on, I thought like, “Okay, I just want to win as much medals as I can.” That is another pressure that you put on your shoulder, but it was less pressure than winning that first one.

Christian: I’ve heard that in previous interviews here, that people can pinpoint one moment where they had an international success and then realized they can be in the top of the world in their sport.

Rutger: Yes, 2005 was that moment for me; the World Championships in 2005 was that moment for me.

His advice to a younger Rutger Smit

Christian: What advice would you give your younger you? You can travel back in time 15 years, 20; we’re both older, so maybe 20 years?

Rutger: Yes, probably 20 years. It’s like sometimes, I have put myself too much pressure on my own shoulders. I became World Junior Champion in 2000 and I wanted to perform well at the senior level right away. I could have, but I did put a too much pressure on myself. And if I give an advice, I would say slow down a little bit in setting your goals.

I think you always have to set high goals, but take the pressure a tiny bit off and just do your thing. And maybe it would have been a little bit different, especially the years before. So that is something that I would give back to myself if I can travel back in time.

I have put myself too much pressure on myself, and if I could give an advice, I would say ‘Slow down a little bit and just do your thing.’

I had two really good coaches, very smart coaches, that I have been blessed with in my career.  Gert Damkat, who is a National Head Coach Throws here at Papendal and later on, Tony Ciarelli, who was my coach when I lived in America for five years. And I want to thank them for all they did for me.

And if I am talking about my younger years and advices, I would probably give a little bit more feedback towards Gert. Because often Gert asked me like, ‘Hey Rutger, how do you feel?’ and of course he sees a lot, like my posture at that moment in time during practice, and these sorts of things. But as a younger kid or teenager, you also don’t say a lot of things, but maybe you are a little bit sore here and there. You may say, ‘Oh, yes, I’m fine.’ So, I would say also to my younger self, just be honest how you really feel.

I think especially in the younger years, most talents say like, ‘Oh yes, I’m fine. I can do that.’ But in my opinion, this has sometimes led to a little injury that was not necessary, just because you overdid it.

The balancing act of setting ambitious goals without pressuring yourself

Christian: Okay, that is interesting. I would like to get back to the first point. You said you would put less pressure on yourself. You’re coaching now, and because it’s a balancing act between having ambitious goals, and you also need to put some pressure on yourself to chase these goals, but at the same time you also need to pull back, as you said.

How would you specifically advise someone? Where would you be ambitious and where would you be more relaxed?

Rutger: I would be ambitious on the main goal. So what is the main goal? What stands on top of the mountain? Where do you want to go to? You can say I wanted to become Olympic champion, but you got to take the pressure a little bit off by setting sub-goals.

I would be ambitious on the main goal, but you got to take the pressure a little bit off by setting sub-goals.

It’s not like that you become Olympic champion in a split second. Because it’s also learning curve, especially with technical events, like the shot put and discus throw, and it all happens in a split second. The whole movement, it takes one second and if you are not 100 per cent physically and mentally prepared at that moment of time, you’re gone. You’re not performing your best performance.

So I would say like also, yes, learn from the moments where it goes wrong. Don’t always put the bar too high. You can also lower the bar sometimes, because talent development, is not a linear process, it goes up, it goes down, in circles, it goes back, it comes around and then it should go up, and that’s how you eventually reach your goals.

So, setting also sub-goals that are realistic in a set time, because when you set a goal you have to connect it to a time frame and the top one, becoming Olympic champion, that can be over ten years, but the sub-goals can be every year, but they have to be realistic.

If you say, for example, I go back in time, I was 17 years old. I throw in the shot put, 18 meters and I will say to my coach, ‘Hey, next year I want to throw 20 meters.’ Then the coach should say like, ‘Okay, stop here. That’s not realistic. Let’s move that down to 19 meters.’ Yes, I think that that is important.

Could he have done even better, if he had doubled down on one discipline

Christian: Out of personal interest, do you think you could have done even better in one of the disciplines, if you would have doubled down and fully went all-in on one of those?

It’s hypothetical, but I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

Rutger:  I’ve got that question asked many times, of many times, and the answer is, you never know. I say yes and no. When I really zoom in on when I had my best performance in the shot put and when I had my best performance in the discus throw, they were different times.

When I zoom in on my best performance in the shot put and the discus throw, they were different times.

Also, in general, when you look at when the average shot putter is on its best, compared to a discus thrower, that are different age brackets.

When I was younger, I was a better shot putter and I also when I look at my training back then, the focus was a tiny bit more on shot put. Then you have this transfer phase where shot put goes a little bit down, because the best shot putters are between the 20 or 21 years and 27 to  28th years. 28 is already late for a shot putter.

The funny thing is for a discus thrower, the best discus throwers are between 27 and 34 years old, so you have different time frames within those two events. So, I think at an early stage I was a better shot putter and then, later on, I was a better discus thrower. I threw my personal best in the shot put in 2006 with 21.62 meters, and I threw my personal best in the discus, as I just told you in 2011, so 5 years later, which says quite a lot of things.

His success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you successful?

Rutger: I’m really fanatic, I don’t want to lose. If you look at my medals, I won the European Junior Championships in shot put and discus throw in 1999. In 2000, I became World Junior Champion, but at a senior level, I never won a gold medal, for some reason. But I always wanted to perform on a high level.

I really have the passion for it, and I do track and field since I was 6 years old and also in combination with wanting to become the best in those two events. My passion, my mentality and, of course, also my physical abilities made me do what I’ve done in those both events, but what really made me is my drive.

My passion, my mentality and my physical abilities made me do what I’ve done, but what really made me is my drive.

I think in talent development, the mental part is a little bit underestimated, I think the mental part is as important as the physical ability of a person.

His morning routine 

Christian: Do you have a morning routine?

Rutger: Yes, absolutely yes. Most of the time, I woke up 2 hours before practice. You can say you have your best performance when you wake up at least a 4 hours before an event. But in training, it doesn’t have to be that strict, in my opinion, so I woke up 2 hours before.

You have your best performance when you wake up at least a 4 hours before an event.

Then just have my breakfast and then I prepare also mentally before the training session. Most of the time, not always, I did my technical training in the morning and I did my weight training in the afternoon.

So, I was waking up 2 hours before, then having breakfast, then preparing mentally for the session, then having my session, go back to my room eat again, then rest, sometimes I would take a little nap, then eat again, mental preparation for the weight training, then the weight training, after weight training, eat, rest, eat, and sleep.

Most of the time, I would have seven eat moments throughout the day, and two training sessions a day. I didn’t train twice every day, so to get it right, Monday and Tuesday, I trained twice a day, Wednesday I had a very light session, some general strength training and core stability that kind of thing. Then Thursday, Friday I did the same as Monday and Tuesday, I had a throwing session and a weight session, Saturday was also very light session and Sunday was a day off.

That changed throughout my career, because at a later age your body cannot handle that much load as at a younger age. So I did more, when I was younger, than at a later a later age, but my approach was always the same.

I think the mental part was my strength, I could really dig into the training. I told you, before this interview started, I didn’t have quite special numbers in the weight room, like some of my competitors have, but I’m really explosive. I could move lighter weights really fast, but that also came with a certain mental approach and I think that was my strongest point, in my mental approach.

I didn’t have quite special numbers in the weight room, like some of my competitors have, but I’m really explosive. I could move lighter weights really fast, but that also came with a certain mental approach and I think that was my strongest point.

That’s why I also said, sometimes I pushed myself a little bit too hard and I put pressure on myself a little bit too much. In the end my mental approach, also in training, was one of my strongest points.

How he prepared mentally for his daily tasks

Christian: If you can give us a quick rundown, how do you prepare mentally or how did you prepare mentally?

Rutger: You start to think of what you want to do beforehand. For example, in the weight room, if I had like a heavy training session. When I woke up in the morning, and I had a throwing session in the morning. So I could wake up in the morning, and feel my body and you think like, ‘Okay, I feel good today.’

And actually, the moment you wake up, as an athlete you feel if you have a good day or not. If you feel good, and you have a heavy training session scheduled, then you start like, for example, squats, I have to do 3 sets of 5 reps scheduled and when I wake up and I think, ‘I am feeling good.’ I wanted to do squats with 210 kilos.

But then I had my throwing session and that went very well and I had this positive feeling about it, and I went back to my room I felt like, ‘Oh yes. This afternoon I’m going to do weights.’ I have 210 on the program, but I’m going to start with 215. Then you rest a little bit and you start your warm-up and then you still feel good and you think like, ‘Yes, I was right.’ You had 215 in your mind and then I think like, ‘Let’s do 217.5.’ If that felt good, I put 220 on the next set and then the last set, I put 222.5 on.

So, every time, push the bar, raise the bar a little bit, push yourself a little bit more. But I always have to say, ‘Don’t get carried away and go over the 100%.’ Put 220 on the bar if are really comfortable and know that you can make it. If you have 1% doubt, don’t do it. Why risk an injury?

‘Don’t get carried away and go over the 100%.’ Only do what you know you can make. If you have 1% doubt, don’t do it.

That is also a big thing of mine and also of the coaches that I had. It’s like, ‘Yes, of course, push yourself, but be sure that you’re going to make it and don’t put the weights on the bar if you know it’s going to be doubtful if you’re going to make it.’

Christian: Yes. In the end, the weights are just a means to become a better athlete in your sport. And not a means in itself.

Rutger: Exactly, exactly right.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: We touched on that before. In competition, how do you prepare for important moments?

Rutger: It’s all planning. In the winter before the season, you start your winter cycle and you sit together with your trainer and you say, “Okay, where do I want to be? In what tournaments do I want to throw far? Where would I want to have that peak performance?”

It’s all planning.

When I was still throwing shot, we had one peak moment in the indoor season, late February, early March. Then we had a little peak moment at the start of the outdoor season, relatively fast after the end of the indoor season, so it was late April, early May, where we wanted to perform well, and  also to throw the standards, and qualify for the major championships later that year.

So you can take first of all the pressure down of making the standards for the championships, and also you can plan your peak towards that major championship. If you don’t have the standard early in the season, then you are also getting a bit stressed, which is not good.

So a little peak performing at the start of the season, get your standards and then you can plan the rest of the season and be relaxed. Then, of course, the third peak was always at the major championships, that you are working towards it. All the meets before that, are just a confirmation on where you’re at on the road to that peak moment.

If I didn’t perform early in the indoor season, I just trained hard, and I didn’t take a lot of rest. We then took the competition to come in a competition rhythm, which is not a big deal. But your performance throughout your competitions has to improve more and more.

Then before a peak performance time, which I think varies from athlete to athlete, some can have 2 peaks in a season, some can have 3 peaks, you can have your peak performance time for  a maximum of three weeks. It’s like a 2 – 3 week window, where you can perform your very best.

You can have your peak performance time for a maximum of three weeks. It’s like a 2 – 3 week window, where you can perform your very best.

The main goal was all about throwing as far as I could at that major Championships, and being at the best at the major championships and try to win medals. My preparation towards those moments always started 10 days before.

This meant, I always wanted to have a little peak performance in the weight room, not only for the mental side, but also to physically have some tension on the body. For example, in the Bench Press, I wanted to do my last 90-95% of my one rep max.

After that, I would do like just everything on speed and the same with squats. I wanted to have a heavy squat, 10 days before my competition, where I said I want to throw far. Then after the near max attempts, I take the weight fully down to 50-60% and do all on speed in those last 10 days.

But I still wanted to have that muscle tension in those 10 days. So combining the one rep max with the speed work, I always felt really good.

I always felt really good combining the one rep max with the speed work.

Christian: There are two words in the German Sports Science literature of Sports Science, and they are called Willensspannkraft and Willensstosskraft. And without going too much into detail, Willensspannkraft is the voluntary effort and intent that you need for longer-lasting events, like 400 meters, or even longer distances, for example.

In turn Willensstosskraft is the slope of activation of that voluntary intent, where you have to be able to activate all right there in the moment.

Now, where I want to go with this, and why I asked you that question, I imagine your sport is all about Willensstosskraft. The moment you step into that ring, and the initiation of the movement, you need to be spot-on.

How do you mentally prepare for that?

What I want to say is, every sport has its own challenges, but for example in 400 meters, if you miss a little bit in the start, there’s still something you can make up for.

However, I assume in shot put, whatever technique you’re using, the O’Brien technique or the spin technique, from the moment you initiate the movement, if that goes wrong, you cannot correct.

How do you prepare for that?

Rutger: You visualize a lot, you visualize the day before, you visualize your competition, your throws, every throw, but also within the attempts, you visualize in between the attempts.

For example, during the warming up, you already have a moment where you think like, “Okay, I have to think a little bit more about this.” You think in between the throws, but when you think about it in the ring, you’re gone.

So in between the throws, I’m thinking about one specific detail about the technique, that I have to do a little bit better at that moment of time. This detail could be, because I felt it or because my coach said it. That is it.

That is the preparation and then when you step into the ring, it is all about staying relaxed, don’t be too greedy and feel the adrenaline. That is key for the shot put and the discus throw, you need to feel the adrenaline. If you don’t feel it, you throw way less, way less.

You need to feel the adrenaline. If you don’t feel it, you throw way less, way less.

I have had meets where I was physically and mentally really good, but I didn’t feel the adrenaline during the meet. I didn’t have the competitors around me and I was throwing way less.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks, if things don’t go your way?

Rutger: When it happens, it is hard and it’s frustrating. The mental health state is bad at that moment of time. When I tore my Achilles, in the first 24 to 48 hours, I said it’s the end of my career.

When I tore my Achilles, in the first 24 to 48 hours, I said it’s the end of my career.

Then I had surgery, I had a good talk with the doctor, I had a good talk with my coach, then I said, “I will come back.” It’s all about what you take out of information that you get from experts; doctors, coaches and, of course, it also has to come from yourself.

When I tore my Achilles, I was 30 plus years old, and I knew, that it was going to be very hard, but do I asked myself “Do I want to end my career like this? Do I want to end my career with an injury?” The answer was no. So, I was focusing on coming back, to do another major championship and be able to decide myself, when I end my career.

I asked myself “Do I want to end my career like this? Do I want to end my career with an injury?”

Also, when I was younger, with my back injury, it was the same thing. I had so many more goals that I wanted to achieve, so that made it in a way easy to come back from that injury. And my first major injury, it was at the start of my career; I was World Junior Champion, when it  happened and I said “This is not going to stop me.”

In addition to that, I went to an expert, a surgeon, and he said, “I’ve seen that injury many times. You are very young and I guarantee you, you will come back from this a hundred percent. You’re so young, you will recover fast.” The positive comments and feedback from experts always gave me the positive thoughts that I could overcome my setback and could look with a positive feeling towards the future.

His role model

Christian: Do you have a role model?

Rutger: I have role models, but also from out of different sports. I like basketball a lot. I played quite a lot of basketball when I was younger, I played just for the fun on a square in my town. I was playing basketball with a lot of older guys, I was 10 or 11 years old and I played against 20 year old guys. So, Michael Jordan is a major role model.

But also Roger Federer in tennis and then Miguel Schumacher in Formula One, so complete different sports. All sports that I love. And now Formula One with Max Verstappen is kind of a big thing here in Holland right now. But yes, all those athletes, that I have just mentioned, I have a lot of respect for, mainly for the way they approach their sport.

All those athletes, that I have a lot of respect for is due to the way they approach their sport.

Within my sport, Lars Riedel was a big role model. When I was upcoming as a talent, I saw Lars Riedel, five-time World Champion, Olympic Champion, European Champion. He was really high on my list of people that I respected.

The best advice he has received

Christian: What is the best advice you have received and who gave it to you?

Rutger: I have received so many good advices. I thought about that question and it is really hard to come up with one particular advice. I had certain key persons throughout my career that gave me good advice. Of course, my coach was one of them.

As an individual athlete, you have to connect with your coach. But you also have the choice as an individual athlete, to choose who you want to train with and who you want to be coached  by.

As an individual athlete, you have to connect with your coach.

Gert [Damkat] and I, we started all the way down together and we worked our way up. I won all medals under supervision of Gert. He gave many advices to me, one of them I remember, was  to stay close to myself and just be the person that I am and work with that. That is my strength and that will help me to become a world-class athlete. That is an important advice that I took from him.

Also, my parents advised me to go with my heart. They said “If you want to focus on sports, do it. We support you.” That was an advice that I don’t take for granted and that was very, very important to have my parents supporting me all the way through.

My parents advised me to go with my heart and they supported me all the way, I don’t take that for granted.

Also, people like Peter Vergouwen, the sports doctor of the Dutch team; retired, but he had a great influence on me too. He was also one of the persons that advised me to take some pressure off myself. He also gave me some good personal advice. So there are some key persons throughout my career.

Throughout my career, I basically had three, well four coaches. I started with track and field  when I was 6 years old. I’ve been coached by a man and a woman until I was 13 or 14 years old, Ina and Teije Blauw, then I went to Gert [Damkat].

But Gert coached me together with Joop Tervoort. Joop is still a very successful throws coach at Groningen. Those two coached me for many years, and then when Gert became National Head Coach, I moved with Gert here to Papendal. Then my last coach was Tony Ciarelli in America, and I also learned a lot of things from him.

So, those are the five coaches throughout my career that had a lot of influence on me, but there were also other people like the sports doctor, physical therapist, friends and family.

A typical training day in the life of a thrower

Christian: How did a typical training day look like?

Rutger: Yes, as I mentioned before, most of the times technical work in the morning, strength in the afternoon.

One or two days heavier with double sessions, followed by a lighter day with just one session.

Check out some impressions of Rutger Smit’s career

Are the throwing disciplines more a strength sport or a technical sport

Christian: Most people think the throwing disciplines are very physically and strength dominant; they surely are. But what’s your opinion on how much technique do you need vs  how much strength do you need? And what’s the relation between both? I am interested in your opinion.

Rutger: Just when you look at it, very plain and simple, technique is very important. It’s hard to put a percentage on it, the technique is very important, but also the strength is really important.

However, the most important thing is like the speed of release. How fast can you move a certain weight. The shot put itself weighs 7.25 kg and the discus is only 2 kg. In the end, it’s all about how fast those two implements come out of my hand. That is the whole thing.

The shot put itself weighs 7.25 kg and the discus is only 2 kg. In the end, it’s all about how fast those two implements come out of my hand. That is the whole thing.

I think you need a certain strength base for shot put and discus, and it’s also documented in some scientific research. For example, you don’t have to press more than 180 kg in the Bench Press, because there is no use of the extra kilos. It’s about once again, how fast can you move that weight. In squats, for example, is it 250 kilos, for a Deep Squat and then, for the Snatch I think out of my head is 120 kilos for a thrower, and Cleans it’s 160 kg.

Still quite high, and for a lot of other sports, that are still like crazy numbers, but if you compare it to what a human body can do, and also how our bodies are built, they aren’t that crazy numbers.

They say those are the base strength numbers, and I believe in that. I don’t think like there is a  point of pressing too crazy, heavy numbers in the weight room, because it’s all about what you do in the ring and that comes in combination with the technique. So, that combination has to be strong; you could say 50/50.

But in the end, if you grab somebody from the street, you would clone that person, so that you have two identical persons. One of them would only do weight training and almost no technique training and the other same person, would do a lot of technique training and just some basic weight training, then that second person will throw further than the first.

But to become a world-class athlete, everything has to come together. Do you want to win Olympic gold? Then it’s a combination of both.

Christian: I remember many years ago in Germany, there were two shot putters, Ulf Timmerman and Udo Beyer and there was a discussion, if the one would have the technique of the other and the other would have the strength of the other, what would happen? Anyway, both became Olympic champion.

Rutger Smith: Yes, Udo Beyer was, of course, the strength person, and Ulf Timmerman has almost perfected the glide technique.

I heard a number of Udo Beyer having a deep squat of 420 kilos. Also, a story that he loaded up the Olympic bar and it just snapped; the bar snapped when he was squatting down, because he had so much load on it.

I heard a story, that Udo Beyer loaded up the Olympic bar and the bar just snapped when he was squatting down, because he had so much load on it.

So, yes, both were freaks of natures, let’s say Udo Beyer in strength and Ulf Timmerman in technique. But talking about world-class athletes and the combination, Ulf Timmerman had a great technique, but was also strong, but not as relatively as strong as Udo Beyer and Udo Beyer was like one of the strongest throwers that I have heard stories about, you cannot say it was a bad technique, but it was certainly not as good as Ulf Timmerman. So yes, once again, it is all about the combination of those two, strength and technique.

His motivation to get into an official role in Track & Field

Christian: So, before we closing out. I have a question. You are currently studying sport and leadership at the Neyenrode University, and I read a comment of you, I’m paraphrasing here, “As an athlete, you are somewhat influenced by things that need to change, but as an official, you can actually make change happen.”

Rutger: That is true. So, a couple of things. I think that interview was from a couple of months ago, and the funny thing is I had my last day in school yesterday.

Christian: Can I already congratulate?

Rutger: I have to get back my research paper, but I heard the teachers say it’s going to be okay and graduation day is in a week and a half from now. So, yes I said that really at the start, and I stick to it.

If I look where my passion is now, I will start a new job in Belgium, where I’m the quality manager Throws, which involves policy making and setting up the Talent Development, and Talent Identification.

I actually just started, so that’s how a lot of things come together these last couple of weeks. I can put my influence a little bit on there and also my ideas, but I will also still coach a little bit too.

I’m still young and I still want to pass on my experience that I have made throughout all those years, I want to give it also to younger people and also other coaches. I don’t think, that I know it all, but I believe I have experiences to share.

I want to pass on my experience that I have made throughout all those years, and I want to give it to younger people and other coaches.

So, answering your question, for now, it is the perfect job for me. Eventually, you can ask me in ten years from now, and I would like to go a little bit higher up in the international organizations to really have a little bit more influence on the policy making indeed.

I have now the responsibility to decide more about the development of the events in Belgium, but overall, and I’m talking more about the anti-doping policy in sports and also the problem of doping in sports.

You have to be higher up in the International Federation and other Sports Federation and especially the IOC. That has to change. I think that a lot of younger ex-athletes can stand strong and can change the sports, because that it has to change is a fact.

For example, the latest decision that the IOC made with WADA was the reinstatement of Russia in the world of sports. They did not fulfil the requirements that the IOC and WADA demanded for reinstatement, but the IOC and WADA essentially just said, “It’s okay, just come back.”

I know, there is politics behind it, I wrote my research paper in the course of the Sports Leadership Program that I followed. So, there is all politics behind it, and that politics should not influence the beauty of sports and that should change.

I think ambitious, former athletes that performed on a high level and that have an incredible passion for the sport can change that. Maybe I’m one of them. I think I’m one of them, because my passion for the sport is enormous.

I started track and field when I was 6 years old, I saw the Olympic Games of 1984 on television, when I was 3 years old and I said to my parents, “I want that too. I want to do that too.”

I saw the Olympic Games of 1984 on television, when I was 3 years old and I said to my parents, “I want that too. I want to do that too.”

Then when I was six years old, I was allowed to start on a sports club, and then I joined at the athletics’ club when I was 6 years old. So, the passion for my sports goes really deep and not only for the shot put and the discus throw, but all the events, from running and to sprinting, and I think younger, former athletes can make the difference in policymaking higher up.

His interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Rutger: I saw the previous interviews and thought about it, and I would like to nominate someone from the sports, swimming.

I would like to an interview with a swimmer, we have a rich history in swimming in Holland. So, it would be amazing, if you can get Pieter van den Hoogenband, Inge de Bruijn, Marleen Veldhuis, Ranomi Kromowidjojo to have an inside of in the swimming world. So, who specifically, that is up to you, a swimmer would be amazing.

Christian: Cool yes. I’ll reach out to one of them or all of them.

Rutger: Yes, all of them.

Christian: Yes, I think Pieter van den Hoogenband is in the back of my mind. I’d love to talk to him.

Where can you find Rutger Smit

Christian: Where can people find you?

Rutger: People can find me on LinkedIn, Rutger Smith and I have my own website, but it’s not updated. Things will change. I don’t do social media anymore, only LinkedIn though. You can find me there. So that is the way to communicate with me. My website will change, probably early 2019, so people can reach out to me there too.

Rutger Smit social profiles

LinkedIn

Website

I just stopped using the social media, Facebook and Instagram, even though with the position that I take now, I can show a little bit more like you do, and show the outside world a little bit of what goes on inside the world of high-performance sports.

I hope that through my web page to give a little bit info about me and my past, and also some updates about my coaching, where people can have an inside look in my world.

Christian: Thanks a lot for your time.

Rutger: All right, thank you.

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