Student Julia wins gold medal in Tokyo: ‘An indescribable feeling’

10 Sep 2021

For wheelchair basketball player and student Julia van der Sprong a dream came true last weekend. With the Dutch team, the 21-year-old student won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

‘I was so happy after the final whistle’, says Julia van der Sprong when looking back on the past weekend. With a big smile on her face she tells about the moment she defeated China with a score of 50 – 31 and won the gold medal for the Dutch wheelchair basketball players. ‘We immediately fell into each other’s arms. Everyone was cheering and hugging each other. The discharge was great, especially among the players who have been with the team for a long time. We have worked towards this goal for years. It’s really fantastic that we have achieved this.’

The last few weeks were busy for the 21-year-old public administration student at Radboud University. She spent almost three weeks in the Japanese capital for the Paralympic Games and shortly after the competition she flew back to the Netherlands again. There wasn’t even time to relax. ‘Saturday after the game, we had a small party with the players and the staff. But not extensively, because the next day was all about our trip back. We arrived in the Netherlands on Monday already.’

Foto: Bert Beelen

Parties and celebrations

What followed was a series of parties and celebrations. After the reception at Schiphol, a festive meeting with the selection and family followed, says the basketball star. ‘After that I immediately went home with my parents, I was exhausted. And the next day I had to be in Scheveningen at 10:00 AM, for a tribute with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and King Willem-Alexander. But the way I was welcomed in the street of my parents made the biggest impression on me. Half the neighbourhood came out to see mee. I really didn’t expect that.’

‘The way I was welcomed in the street of my parents made the biggest impression on me’

In the meantime, the realization has descended on Van der Sprong. ‘It’s really cool that we did it. A gold medal at the Games. That is really an indescribable feeling.’

The medal is the icing on the cake for the team. Although Oranje, which in previous years also won the European Championship and World Cup wheelchair basketball, belonged to one of the favourites, the medal was not a certainty in advance. Certainly not in a final game against China, which was still too strong in the group stage with a score of 45 – 38.

Trust

Van der Sprong doesn’t mince words: ‘That group match was a bad game. So many simple things went wrong that weren’t meant to go wrong. When we heard that the final was against China, we said to each other: “We’re going to do that differently, we’re not going to lose twice.” We have also grown as a team during the tournament. What helped us was the match against Algeria, in which we won with a score of 109 – 18. Normally I start as a bench warmer and I don’t play much, but I was able to make good minutes against Algeria, which gave me confidence.’

‘I was really nervous for the final’

‘But I was really nervous for the final. In general, I was more nervous than during the European or World Championship. This feels different. The game was evenly matched for a long time, but thanks to a strong fourth quarter we managed to take some distance. Then it became more real that it was really going to happen. In the final piece of the match, I was able to make some minutes myself. That was a very cool experience.’

Lectures

‘I am also really positively surprised by the attention paid to the sport. The final was watched by about 600,000 people in the Netherlands, an unprecedented amount. From all sides I got messages from people who had seen me play. Even people I didn’t expect it from.’

Now that the Paralympic adventure is over, there is finally time to relax: Van der Sprong is now back in Italy for vacation. ‘But in an apartment with good WiFi, because my lectures have just started again. I don’t want to miss that.’ It doesn’t bother her that she doesn’t have a real holiday this summer. ‘That golden medal was more than worth it’, she concludes with a laugh.

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