Arno Kamminga On Rio 2016, Overcoming The Unexpected At Europeans And Dry-Land Warm-Ups

ROTTERDAM - Arno Kamminga tijdens de 200 meter schoolslag in de finales tijdens de Rotterdam Qualification Meet waar gestreden wordt om een ticket voor de Olympische Spelen van Tokio. ANP ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN
Arno Kamminga: Photo Courtesy: ANP, Robin van Lonkhuizen

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Arno Kamminga didn’t watch the Rio Olympics but instead packed his bags and went on holiday.

Fast-forward five years and the Netherlands swimmer approaches Tokyo as the second-fastest man in history over 100 breaststroke – one of just two through the 58-second barrier – and the sixth swiftest over 200.

The contrast with 2016 is like night and day. Back then he paid no attention to what was happening in Brazil, a combination of not having made the team and finals taking place in the middle of the European night meaning he didn’t even seek out the results.

Kamminga told Swimming World:

“I wasn’t really expecting to make the team. It was more that I was debating whether to go forward with swimming, if I was ever going to make it.

“I had a proper vacation and the sadness of not being there combined with the time of the finals meant I didn’t want to watch.

“I had a great time that summer. It was also the summer I made my switch from the junior to the senior team.

“The only thing I can remember is coming back after vacation and I was really looking forward to it.

“For me it was one last shot so I said to myself I’m going to give myself one year to make it and if I make it then of course I’m going to continue swimming and if I don’t make it I know I’ve tried, it’s not for me and I can enjoy the rest of my life.

“It was a big make-or-break year and within a few months I’d broken the Dutch 200 record and I made my cut.”

A Father’s Grief And The Perfect Coaching Blend

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Arno Kamminga: Photo Courtesy: Kees-Jan van Overbeeke

Kamminga is a late bloomer. For him, there were no European or world junior teams and the three silver medals he claimed at the European Championships in May were his first in senior long-course waters at 25.

There was though little indication of what was to come in his teenage years, Kamminga having said in an interview in March 2020:

“I was more the lazy guy. I felt like I never had a real purpose in life, I was just doing stuff.

“When I talk to my old team-mates when I was swimming at the club and they’re like ‘we don’t get it. You were always the one first out of the water showering’ and always that I was showering for an hour and then the water turned cold.

“Showering was better than the training: I always found ways to get out of practice.”

In September 2011 Kamminga’s mother Marleen died of breast cancer, when he was 15 and she 48.

Her death left father Meindert with the grief of three children – Elwin, Iris and Arno – as well as his own.

Kamminga said:

“He did a splendid job. It wasn’t easy for him because in the beginning the four of us were all struggling to cope with the loss and the new life.

“I think my sister and I were further ahead of our father dealing with the loss and getting on with our lives.

“After a year, a year and a half, my father had a place for it and came down and his emotions went down and he was really supportive of us.

“Especially for me it has always been like, I won’t push you into anything, just make your own choices.

“If you want to swim, you’re going swim; if you don’t want to swim, I’m also fine. Do whatever you want I am there supporting you, no matter what.

“For me that was really like a liberation; it was really nice to have that support no matter what.

“No matter if I swim good or bad, he is always there and he is my biggest fan.

“For my dad to be so supportive but also really free was for me the best scenario.”

In the two years following his mother’s death, Kamminga decided he was going to commit to the sport.

He narrowly missed out on making teams several times but it was the beginning of his coaching relationship with Mark Faber in 2016 that really heralded the start of something special.

Faber was appointed head coach of the Netherlands Training Centre Amsterdam in October 2016, his arrival coinciding with Kamminga’s commitment to the sport.

Kamminga responded to Faber’s style of coaching, one that encourages a blend of independence forged in mutual trust and accountability.

He explained:

“I don’t need anyone babysitting me or really pushing me into anything and that is also why I think I click so well with Mark because he is also like that.

“He’s like ‘I’m going to help you the top if you have to do it yourself and you have to want it yourself.’

“I had coaches before who were really pushing – that’s not my cup of tea, I don’t like that.”

The Steepest Of Trajectories

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Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kamminga picked up his first international medal at the European Short-Course Championships in December 2017 when he won gold with the Netherlands’ 4×1 mixed medley relay.

The following year there were two seventh places in the 100 (59.69) and 200 (2:09.87) at the long-course Europeans in Glasgow.

Come the 2019 worlds and he came eighth in 59.49 in the same 100 semi in which Adam Peaty went 56.88, Kamminga saying: “I was looking at him like he was way out of reach so I was more like – how the hell do you swim 56? I’m still thinking how the hell can you swim 56?”

He narrowly missed the 200 final with a 2:08.48 national record in the semi where Matthew Wilson of Australia matched the world record of 2:06.67.

With that 200 time, Kamminga qualified for Tokyo and the following months saw him dismantle his PBs time and again.

The FINA World Cup stop in Kazan, Russia, in November 2019 marked his first journey inside 59 over 100 in 58.98, followed in December by 58.64 and Olympic year opened with 58.61 at the FINA Champions Swim Series in Shenzhen, China.

At the Antwerp Diamond Race in March 2020, Kamminga went 58.43 to propel himself to what was then third all-time.

He has bettered that on four occasions and in April he went 57.90, to move to within 1.02secs of Peaty, the man who was so untouchable and out of reach less than two years earlier.

Similarly in the 200. Inside 2:08 for the first time at the World Cup in Budapest in October 2019 in 2:07.96, he’s now done that four times with the apex in December 2020 when he went 2:06.85 to join a very select club.

What’s noticeable is his consistency with 10 journeys inside 2:08 and 18 through the 59 barrier.

His four fastest efforts over 100m have all come since April this year and between May and July there’ve been five 200s ranging between 2:07.23-2:07.63.

Kamminga said:

“The consistency gives me more confidence but I mostly do the competitions any other year to practice.

“So I really love doing competitions and getting really into that racing style and I think the racing you do at those competitions you can’t do in practice.

“For me it’s really important to be there and this year I was so consistent and also the way we approach the competition is slightly different every time.”

European Success And Overcoming The Unexpected

MEN - 100M BREASTSTROKE Podium Silver Medal KAMMINGA Arno NED Nederland PEATY Adam GBR Great Britain Gold Medal WILBY James GBR Greit Britain Bronze Medal Swimming Budapest - Hungary 18/5/2021 Duna Arena XXXV LEN European Aquatic Championships Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kamminga undertook a heavy programme at the Europeans in Budapest with the 50-200 breaststroke as well as the mixed medley relay which involved a tight turnaround.

He took silver behind Peaty over 100 and Anton Chupkov in the 200 – both world-record holders – with the Netherlands second to Britain in the relay.

“That was really cool, that was epic. I really love Budapest: my first big competition was there – the 2017 – so I have a special feeling coming back.

“This time being on the podium, being one of the big guys, and swimming fast – that really felt special, it was good.”

It was the first international long-course meet since Gwangju and offered the athletes a priceless opportunity to swim an extended meet.

While athletes focus solely on what they can control, Kamminga was confronted by the unexpected in the 100 final when the cord on his suit snapped as he turned.

He said:

“When you turn you put a lot of pressure on your core so I think it was just a little too much and the cord broke.

“I felt it during my turn and I was like ‘oh heck’ and I pushed off and the suit was perfectly in place and nothing happened.

“So I was like okay, nothing’s going to happen now.

“Those things could happen and it happened and I still had a pretty amazing race and I am not too afraid about that happening at the Olympics.

“I was prepared for it – not necessarily the cord breaking – but if something happens I’ll know what to do but it was also quite nice to have it happen for real and know it doesn’t affect me.”

Tokyo, Dry-Land Warm-Ups And Olympic Expectations

Gold Medal CHUPKOV Anton RUS Silver Medal KAMMINGA Arno NED 200 Breaststroke Men Final Swimming Budapest - Hungary 20/5/2021 Duna Arena XXXV LEN European Aquatic Championships Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Arno Kamminga & Anton Chupkov: Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The delayed Olympics open on 23 July with the 100 heats the following evening and the 200 starting on 27 July.

Peaty leads the 100 rankings with 57.39 in April with Zac Stubblety-Cook’s time of 2:06.28 at the Australian trials in mid-June second in history only to Chupkov’s 2:06.12 world record.

Kamminga offered his insight into all the other components outside an athlete’s control that can affect an outcome, saying:

“Huge, huge props to Zac for swimming so fast. I think he had an amazing race – going that first 100 with Matthew (Wilson) – and that really launched him into the second 100.

“That’s also the thing I’ve figured out over the last few months.

“Racing alone, having your own race, or racing against others – it’s so different and it can be very hard.

“Sometimes you can have a race when someone is lying perfectly next to you and he launches you.

“So the final at Europeans with Peaty next to me I could really push myself but then the same thing happened to me in Rome.

“(Nicolo) Martinenghi was perfectly next to me and he launched himself off me.

“I think that’s the same thing about the Olympics. The best wins but also if you’re in a good lane and you have the perfect guy for your race next to you.”

As is his custom, there’ll be no pool warm-up before his races but instead one on dry land, something he has done for the last six years.

“It’s my secret sauce. I’ve been perfecting it for years now and I know exactly what I need to do for my body to get warm and to get ready.

“I prefer it over swimming because I don’t have any trouble over the water being too cold or too warm, too busy lanes, or anything like that.”

After that, it’s into the pool on the biggest stage of all.

“Of course I want to swim fast and I want to win but for sure for me it’s more I want to have my perfect race or at least a really good race at the Olympics.

“I know that if I have my perfect race it will be really hard to beat.

“Of course, Peaty is way ahead and of course I’m going to try and make it as hard as possible but we’ll see.

“It’s also my first Olympics – I haven’t done a final at long-course worlds.

“For me I know I’m going to swim at least until Paris so it’s also just getting a lot of race practice in as well.

“So even though it’s the Olympics I want to learn and I want to get better over time.”


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