‘I’m never going back. Here I get opportunities’

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Swimmer Caspar Corbeau is half American and half Dutch. He mainly saw a future in the Netherlands and moved to Amsterdam in August. Next week, the breaststroke specialist will be one of the contenders for a World Cup medal.

Lisette van der GeestFebruary 1, 202405:00

The first tattoo that Caspar Corbeau (22) had on his body had elegant letters, in a language he did not speak at the time. ‘Orange above’ is written on his right forearm, inspired by the first competition that the swimmer swam for the Netherlands. “They kept saying orange up there for some reason before a race.”

Corbeau is the son of an American mother and a Dutch father and grew up in America. He has been playing for the Netherlands in international competitions for seven years. Last summer he moved from Texas to Amsterdam. The breaststroke specialist won the European Championship title in the 200 meters short course in December, and was faster than his new teammate Arno Kamminga, the two-time Olympic silver medalist from Tokyo.

About the author
Lisette van der Geest is a sports reporter for de Volkskrant and has been writing for more than ten years about Olympic sports such as skating, tennis, judo, handball and sailing.

His current coach, Mark Faber, describes him as: ‘That boy is full of potential.’ 2.00 meters tall, shoe size 50 – for the Tokyo Summer Games he had to look for his sports shoes on a separate rack because of the unusual size. Its length allows it to glide for a long time under water, and it easily gains speed with relatively little effort. Moreover, he is strong. His rise is rapid: the upcoming World Championships, which start for the long-track swimmers on February 11 in Doha, Corbeau is one of the contenders for a podium place in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke.

Discover the world

When Corbeau was 16 years old, his father said: how about swimming for the Netherlands? In few countries is swimming as big as in America. There are only a few places available for an international competition, with dozens of contenders. At that time, Corbeau was not among the best in the country. ‘I thought: if I choose the Netherlands, I can not only swim, but also discover more of the world.’

Corbeau’s grandparents moved to in the late 1950s beachtown Santa Cruz, California. “A change of scenery, like a lot of people, I suspect.” Corbeau grew up with stroopwafels, chocolate sprinkles and gingerbread. He lived first in California, then in Oregon, and eventually moved to the University of Texas at 18 to swim and study. In the Netherlands, Kamminga and Tes Schouten allow him to work with world-class breaststroke specialists, but he consciously waited to move until after his graduation.

After the world championships in Fukuoka last July, he joined Faber’s training group in Amsterdam. From a team of about forty swimmers to a group of four. There have been many changes in Corbeau’s life, but he calls the size of the group and the difference in attention the biggest changes. “It’s different to be part of such a professional team,” he says. ‘At that time I still had to share the attention with 39 others, now I get 25 percent of the attention from my coach.’ In addition, he now trains more on technique, instead of size. That is also paying off.

With the Olympic ticket for the 200 meter breaststroke.Image Getty

Duolingo

The conversation is in English, although Corbeau now speaks enough Dutch to say with a hard ‘g’ that he finds it easier to express himself in his mother tongue, or that in the ‘butcher’s shop’ he starts in Dutch, but sometimes still switches to English. . Dutch was never spoken at home. “I’ve been working with Duolingo for almost two years now.”

He lives less than ten minutes by bike from the swimming pool. Everything is much smaller in the Netherlands than in America. ‘Food, cars, houses. But I love it and I have everything I need here.”

In practical terms he doesn’t miss anything. He does miss friends and family. But his parents are emigrating to Portugal in July. That reduces the distance considerably. ‘They are a bit fed up with America and the current political situation. The Netherlands was the other option. But they want sun.’

In his youth he felt more American than Dutch. Let the ratio be 80 to 20 percent. ‘But I am now trying to increase that to 50 – 50.’ The longer he is here, the more Dutch he starts to feel. “People here are so different from people in America. The Dutch are much more direct. I appreciate that, it’s easier to communicate.’

Tattoos

The ink on the right side of his body shows a different proportion. Of the four tattoos, two have a link with the Netherlands: there is a Dutch lion on his shoulder. There are Olympic rings at his elbow and a Texas longhorn, a bovine, on his ribs. There is a special reason behind the Texas Longhorn: you have to earn it, says Corbeau. Only athletes with great sporting achievements are allowed to immortalize the image on their body. In his case: winning the medley relay in the NCAA, the famous university competition.


Coach Mark Faber with Arno Kamminga (r) and Caspar Corbeau (l).Image Klaas Jan van der Weij / de Volkskrant

A symbol of American patriotism is not for him. ‘I would never get an American flag or eagle tattooed. Nowadays it is so divided there. I don’t want to put anything that could be seen as a political statement on my body.’ The ‘orange top’ represents the feeling he got when he first joined the Dutch team. ‘It can be difficult, being an outsider. Not understanding anything, not speaking the language; but I actually felt a warm welcome.’

In 2019 he received an email from the American association. Whether ‘Caspar’ was available to be broadcast to an international match? ‘I said: no, Caspar has been representing the Netherlands for two years.’ He hasn’t heard anything since. Yes, sometimes there are people who urge him to come out for America. ‘But I’ll never go back. Here I get opportunities. The Netherlands has already made so much possible for me, it would feel wrong. Apart from that, I’m happy where I am.’

The article is in Dutch

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