My name is Epke Zonderland (16 April 1986). I am a Dutch top gymnast and my most memorable result so far is Olympic gold.
- 173 cm
- 69 kg
- Place of birth
- Date of birth
- 16 April 1986
I started gymnastics when I was four years old, at the local gymnastics club DOS in Lemmer. My sister Geeske (1981) and my brothers Herre (1983) and Johan (1984) were already members and at one time I thought it would be fun to join them. Apart from the fact that I liked gymnastics very much, I also turned out to be talented. That is why I was given the opportunity to train at the national gymnastics support centre in Joure once a week. One year after that, the support centre in Joure ceased to exist and a new men’s team was started in Heerenveen. My brothers and I all took part in that. By then, I was six years old.
At that point in time, 1993, a brand new gymnasium was being built in Heerenveen. That was a major boost for the evolution of regional top sport, for both men’s and women’s gymnastics. From that moment on, the amount of training hours increased gradually, to ultimately about 30 hours per week. When I was fourteen, I participated in the European Championship Juniors in Bremen for the first time.
I made my international breakthrough four years later, in 2004, at the European Championship Juniors in Ljubljana, where I competed in the all-round finals (fourth) and the apparatus finals horizontal bar (second).
Since 2005, Sportstad Heerenveen has been the home base for my training and coaching. From that period on, I achieved my best all-round classifications, among others during the World Championship Melbourne 2005 (eleventh) and the European Championship 2007 Amsterdam (sixth). Unfortunately, mainly because of injuries in preparation for the Olympic Games 2008, I had to focus more and more on the apparatus speciality. In the documentary “Op nei Peking”, my Olympic preparation of that period is nicely captured, with both highs and lows. Although there were no successes for me at the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing, I was seventh in the finals. With this experience I made a significant step forward as an athlete. Four years later, by the way, my preparation for the Olympic Games 2012 in London was also captured, this time in the NOS documentary “Operatie Zonderland”.
The advantage of specializing is that I can now focus more on my favourite disciplines, the horizontal bar and parallel bars. By doing so, my performance since 2008 has been more stable, resulting in a few highs, like the two silver medals at the World Championship London 2009, the World Championship Rotterdam 2010 and the European title at the European Championship Berlin 2011. But my best sports moment by far, was at the Olympic Games in London 2012 by achieving gold. I also think it is a great honour that the Dutch athletes chose me as Athlete of the Year at the NOC*NSF Sportgala in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, based on my achievements.
6 months after winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games in London, I was unveiled in wax in Sportstad Heerenveen on 26 April 2013. After that, my wax work was placed in Madame Tussauds. What an honour!
Of course, I wanted to be part of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, in particular to qualify with a full men’s team. I was able to develop further and became World Champion horizontal bar in Antwerp in 2013 and European Champion (Sofia) and World Champion (Nanning) in 2014.
At the World Championship in Glasgow in 2015, the Dutch men’s team reached the eleventh place. That gave us the opportunity to take part in the test event for the Olympic Games in April 2016 in Rio. When we reached third place out of the eight national teams, we could take a complete men’s team to the Games.
At the Olympic Games in August 2016, we became tenth, a wonderful result. I qualified for the horizontal bar finals, but I missed my second flight element as a result of which I ended up being seventh.
In 2006 I started my medical training, which I combined with my gymnastics career. Obviously, I have encountered delays. So, after the Games in Rio, it was time to complete my education. I still had six months of internships planned in orthopaedics and sports medicine. In this period, I was mainly involved with my training. Since the spring of 2017, I have been a physician and in that same year I started working at Sportgeneeskunde Friesland in Sportstad Heerenveen.
In the year before the Olympic Games in Rio, I encountered several health problems, and the World Championship in Montreal has shaped the continuation of my career. I was plagued by chronic sinusitis, which made me so tired, that I could not train enough. Luckily, the symptoms subsided in 2017 and I could resume my training schedule as desired. This resulted in the silver medal at the World Championship in Montreal. Partly due to this success, I decided to continue my gymnastics career to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In 2016, I married my wonderful wife Linda Steen. We met in 2010 and she has been a key factor in my successes in my sports career. In October 2018, our sweet son Bert Eize Steen was born. A week later, unfortunately, I had to get on a plane to the World Championship in Doha. That was a difficult time, because this is a time you want to spend with your family. Anyway, it was very good that I became World Champion for the third time at that World Championship, with maybe my best exercise ever. In the spring of 2019, I could again claim the European title in the Polish city Szczecin. The birth of our son had given me wings, that much was clear.
In order to take part in my fourth Olympic Games, I had to qualify at the World Championship in Stuttgart in 2019. We were able to qualify as a team, just like we did for the Olympic Games in 2016, but I also possibly qualified as apparatus specialist on the horizontal bar. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. My health was playing up again. An alternative route to Tokyo, via the World Cup series, was still open. I had to forego the World Cup in Cottbus, because of my sinusitis. In October, I had a minor surgical intervention. The next World Cup was in Melbourne in January 2020. Despite the short time for preparation, I performed an amazing exercise, and I won the World Cup with a score of 14.900, which ranked me first in the classification. Given that only the first ranked athlete for every apparatus is allowed to participate in the Olympic Games, I need to hold on to that position. There is still one World Cup left, which has been moved to March 2021, due to the corona crisis. At this point in time, that means that I have to make sure I am in top condition at the time of the competition in order to sustain my lead position.