At fifteen, Marrit Steenbergen was already being called the ‘new’ Femke Heemskerk or Ranomi Kromowidjojo. That didn’t happen for a long time, until last year. The Friesian stormed to the top of the world and filled her trophy case, but she feels anything but a world champion. “Sometimes my days are really long.”
Steenbergen was one of the big stars at the European Long Track Championships in Rome last year with a seven-medal harvest, but that didn’t show when he returned. The multiple European champion did not even celebrate.
It is typical of Steenbergen’s character. He always wants to move forward and doesn’t think for a second about looking back. “I mainly saw a lot of bears on the trail, whereas I probably felt the need to celebrate,” she says.
Four months later, Steenbergen shined again. This time on the world stage. He won four medals at the World Short Course Championships in Melbourne, including gold in the 100m individual medley. He again had doubts about whether he wanted to organize a party.
And so he presented it to his psychologist. “He said I should know it myself, but he would if he were in my shoes,” says Steenbergen, 23. “So I thought, well, okay, I’ll do it then.”
De medailleoogst van Marrit Steenbergen in 2022:
- Medailles EK langebaan: 7 medailles (4 goud, 1 zilver, 2 brons)
- Medailles WK kortebaan: 4 medailles (1 goud, 3 brons)
Steenbergen does not feel world champion
Steenbergen was already in 2016 at the age of sixteen with his examples Heemskerk, Kromowidjojo and Inge Dekker in the Olympic final of the 4×100 meter freestyle. She was bombarded as the new Dutch swimming talent.
High expectations from the outside world in combination with shoulder problems led to mental problems. Steenbergen slipped and even missed all international tournaments for a few months.
With the help of a psychologist, the guidance of people-oriented coach Patrick Pearson, and his own personal development, Steenbergen’s career has been on the rise for some time now. The most outstanding? The world title in the 100m individual medley on the short course at the World Cup in Australia late last year.
He followed in the footsteps of Dekker, Heemskerk and Kromowidjojo with the world title, but it doesn’t feel like it. “I always thought: if you’re a world champion, you’re super good,” says Steenbergen. “But I don’t feel that way at all.”
“Now my name is everywhere”
Little has changed for Steenbergen after his dream year. She only seems surprised when she sees that a handful of journalists have come to Eindhoven for a press moment surrounding the Eindhoven qualifying meeting. “It adds a bit of pressure,” she admits.
And then this isn’t even a tournament where Steenbergen necessarily has to peak. “But it’s different when you’re training anonymously here or you’re in a competition that nobody writes about,” Steenbergen explains. “Now your name will be everywhere. That’s good, but it also adds extra pressure.”
In Eindhoven, Steenbergen swims that pressure easily. He swam the 200-meter freestyle below the Olympic limit for the Paris Olympics on Thursday and set a Dutch record in the 400-meter individual medley a day later. On Saturday, he also won the national record in the 200-meter individual medley.
Side jobs in supermarkets and restaurants are not a success
If Marrit Steenbergen is funny now? “Not always. The days are sometimes very long,” she admits herself honestly. The contrast between her and her private life is enormous: the schedule is often empty outside of swimming and when she arrives at her house in Eindhoven she is deafeningly calm.
Steenbergen moved from Friesland to Eindhoven at the age of sixteen for her swimming career. Especially in the weeks of recovery, she often sits alone on the couch and misses social contacts. Steenbergen tried out for a sociology degree and side jobs at a supermarket and in a restaurant. “But that wasn’t a hit,” she says with a laugh.
Along with her psychologist, Steenbergen is now looking at what she wants to do outside of swimming, but is putting off making those decisions for now. First, everything must lead to something she knows she really wants: to shine at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
“Of course there will be difficult weeks until then,” says Steenbergen. “But now I’m trying to figure it out, for example, eating at someone’s house once or twice a week. Then you already have something to look forward to. After Paris, I just want to get better.”