Part 2: Breaking the world record

Written by Bert Plomp

My father used to play soccer in the first team of VELOX. That was quite a while ago, several years before the outbreak of World War II. A severe knee injury put an end to his soccer career. A similar fate befell me when, at the age of twenty-five, I seriously twisted my left knee.
Despite his impaired knee, my father remained active in sports. He encouraged his sons from a young age to participate in various sports. Eventually, long-distance running became the favourite sport for all three boys. My sister Saskia was a bit less sports-oriented, or rather unsportsmanlike. Although, she walked ‘the evening four-day march’ a few times.

In our early childhood, Theo, Charles, and I didn’t really play together, at least not at home. Each had his own circle of friends, and we also differed in age by a few years. However, we often played street soccer and other games on the street together.
As teenagers, spending many weekends and holidays at the camping site in Doorn, the three of us participated every Sunday afternoon in the summer in the ‘Tour of Het Grote Bos.’ It was a five-kilometre race around the camping grounds. It was not uncommon for the three of us to finish first, just under 18 minutes. To achieve such a time, you had to run your lungs out. In those days, Theo usually crossed the finish line first, as the age difference worked in his favour. Occasionally, though, I was the fastest, and then my eldest brother would be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

The highlight of such a race day was the evening ceremony on the large square of the camping site. On Sunday evenings, during the dance, the winner was announced and honoured. The top three were invited to take their places on the podium. In front of an enthusiastic crowd, they were awarded medals. They could count on the warm attention of many beautiful girls from the audience for the rest of the evening. This attention was always an incentive for me to somehow reach for the highest honour.
This goal once led me to a cunning plan. It was on a Sunday afternoon when both my brothers were absent. I didn’t feel like exerting myself too much that afternoon. But I didn’t want to disappoint the girls either. So, I decided to try to build a substantial lead over the first part of the course. Then, out of sight of the competition, slip into the campground through the back entrance and, a kilometre before the finish, rejoin the course through a side entrance. This way, I could cut a significant portion unnoticed.
For the first five hundred meters, a straight stretch along the fence of the camping site, I could hear heavy breathing behind me. So, I had to step up my game. At some point, the opponent must have thought: This show-off can’t keep it up; let him go.
After a right-angle turn, another half a kilometre straight along the fence followed. At the end of it, there was another sharp right turn and shortly after, the intended back entrance. When I took the last turn and quickly looked back, I saw that I was about a hundred meters ahead of the rest and could sneak onto the campground unnoticed. I quickly squeezed through the turnstile and disappeared among the trees.
Where I left the course, the rest of the participants still had to run a few kilometres on a sandy road to Doorn. Then, via the Old Arnhem Road, they had to cover the last two kilometres to the main entrance of the camping.
Once on the campground, I could ease off and catch my breath. I continued at a trot, diagonally across the terrain, to the side entrance. From that point, it was two hundred meters to the access road to the campground and then another five hundred to the finish.
I emerged far ahead of the rest at the beginning of the Hydepark-lane. The final stretch had begun. I could already hear the crowd cheering at the finish line, and I was in a certain degree of ecstasy. Enthralled by the exciting thought that all those admiring girls would soon be throwing themselves around my neck. That I would be in the spotlight during the evening dance on the large square.
When I glanced at my watch, I suddenly realized that I would finish within fourteen minutes. I would thus significantly improve the unofficial world record for that distance. At that moment, just to be on the safe side, I decided to leave the course through a side path.
Unnoticed, I sought out my tent well behind the finish line and didn’t show my face for the rest of the day. After all, like many other top athletes, I didn’t want to peak too early at the beginning of my running career.


For all episodes, click on: Being sporty

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