Ibaki’s grandfather used to do gymnastics on the roof of the farm

He inherited the grace of his grandfather, Hare. He walked on his hands over the ridge of the farm – from owl sign to owl sign. He inherited his father Hoyt’s tenacity. He rode Elfstedentocht three times. His two older brothers were also gymnasts. But no one in the Frisian sports family was as acrobatic as Sunday’s kid Ibke Zunderland, aka Flying Dutchman.

So cry, his first name is enough. He stunned the sports-loving Netherlands with his exercise on the golden horizontal bar at the 2012 Olympics in London. He was also a three-time world champion and four-time athlete of the year. And above all: a patriotic teddy bear. Because everyone loved and cried, with his blonde hair and rosy cheeks.

Epke – from head to toe called retired VolkskrantJournalist John Volkers wrote a biography. It is a fairly complete life story, showing the strong family bond and realistic situation of the main character. Not a revealing book, but a well researched book.

For example, Epke, who graduated as a doctor after all, has interesting observations about a gymnast’s body. “The muscle has to stay nimble,” he says. “We’re not trained to be a little clumsy with so much weight to carry.” “Ipke can improvise instinctively,” said his supervisor Bert Otten, a professor at the Medical College in Groningen.

Yuri Van Gelder

Ibke shows sympathy for his Brabant counterpart Yuri van Gelder, a specialist in the ring who, after his world title in 2005, proved unable to withstand the fame and luxury. Caught using cocaine, which he was found addicted to, he entered rehab in Scotland and returned to the rings, but was sent home for the 2016 Rio Games after a night out and missing morning training. “Truly a deadly sin. Yuri was the first to reach the international summit,” says a sympathetic Ibki.

He is wary about other violations in gymnastics. He somewhat sides with the coaches accused of trespassing behavior, though it should be noted that they are or have been active in women’s gymnastics (read little girls). For men, the age difference between coach and gymnast (youth) is much smaller anyway. “Oh my God!” Ipke says. “I think killing all of these trainers is a bit doubly so while the infringing behavior hasn’t been proven or hasn’t been proven yet.”

On his own experiences in the training room: “I had no abuse myself. The coaches in the hall stood eagerly. Of course you could sometimes hear them yell. I call that yelling more than swearing and swearing. Do you have to take someone to court for that?”

Epke says of the pros and cons of a professional approach: “With the best sports, you take more risks. If you never feel pain, you won’t progress. You push the boundaries more. No, fun isn’t always of paramount importance.” He had the advantage of being from a (observant) gymnast family. “Security exists through the openness between the triangle gymnast, coach, and parents. If the gymnast dares not say anything, you are in an insecure world.”

He quotes commentator Hans van Zetten – known for his historical “And he stands up!” After the Zonderland gold exercise in London, in 2012: “Gymnastics has a royal look, but requires Spartan methods.” Van Zetten resigned from NOS in 2020, after it became known that in a previous position as national coach he had ignored some coaches’ misconduct and accused women as whistleblowers/victims of malice.

Van Zetten himself had the prescience in his commentary booth at the O2 Arena when he told an audience of millions before spotlighting Epke: “The next minute is going to change Epke’s life.” And though many say he’s still as humble as he was before August 7, 2012, it’s clear his life has changed. He has been “less spontaneous and boisterous” since becoming a celebrity. He’s married and now a father of three – his youngest was born at the beginning of this month when the book had already gone to printer.

Sitting is the new smoking

The biggest change is his physique. Before London 2012 he had never been sick or injured, and after that the body protested repeatedly and for a long time. “There are two Epkes: one before 2012 and one after,” his coach Daniel Knippler explains in the book. “The first was a pleasure to work with. The second is sometimes an unsolvable puzzle.”

For ten years Ibke challenged his physical complaints. He has won a handful of world titles, but at the 2016 and 2021 Games he was far from another gold medal. A neglected sinus infection sidelined him for a long time. He said goodbye last summer after the Tokyo Olympics. He now works as a sports doctor in Groningen. The young doctor warns the lazy reader: “Sitting is the new smoking.”

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