Yvonne Hak is an elite athlete from the Netherlands, who competes in the 800 metres. At the 2010 European Athletics Championships in Barcelona she claimed the silver medal in a personal best time of 1:58.85, becoming the first Dutch athlete to medal at the event at the Europeans since 1962. She is third on the Dutch all-time list for the event.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. To begin with, what is your earliest memory of competing in athletics?
Yvonne: I remember my first club championships. I won, but that was because I was the only competitor in my age group. I was only 7 years old!
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol that you looked up to when you were growing up?
Yvonne: I did not have one particular idol. I just liked the idea of running fast. I did have a poster of Nelli Cooman on the wall in my bedroom, a former Dutch sprinter and ex-world record holder in the 60m indoor with 7.00 sec.
James: At what moment in your life did you realise that athletics would become more than just a hobby for you?
Yvonne: When I was 19 years old I won the Dutch Championships for the first time. I beat a girl with a PB of 2.01. That was the moment I realised that maybe I could become something more than a hobby runner.
James: At last year’s European Championships in Barcelona you surprised everyone by claiming the silver medal and running a PB of 1:58.85 in the process. Can you put into words that experience? Did you expect to perform so well?
Yvonne: The whole 2010 track season went better than expected. I started the season with a goal to reach the final in the Europeans, but during the season everything went so well, by winning two World Challenge meets, I started to dream about a medal at the Europeans. The last 50 meters to the finish line in Barcelona I felt so excited, realising that I was actually in the run for a medal. I was already celebrating my medal 10 meters before the finish line!
James: In Barcelona you defeated Jenny Meadows, a World Championship medallist, proving that you can compete with the very best in the world. How close do you feel you are to making that next step up and challenging for medals at global championships? How fast do you feel you are capable of running over the coming years?
Yvonne: I still have to make a big step to medal at a global championship. I am sure I have to run at least 1.57 to medal at the Worlds, and for the Olympics probably even faster. But I do feel my body is not at its limits yet, there is still much to improve. I need to get stronger and faster. I do not know what my limits are, if it is 1.57, 1.56 or maybe even 1.55, I do not know. The upcoming years will tell me that.
James: With 16 months to go, how much is London 2012 in the back of your mind right now?
Yvonne: London 2012 is my biggest goal. It is my dream to win an Olympic medal. That is my drive to train hard every day.
James: What would an average week of training be like, specifically in terms of key sessions and total mileage?
Yvonne: An average week for me counts about 70 to 80 kilometres. Key sessions are two or three track sessions and two hill sessions in the woods. Especially the hill sessions are really tough and important for me, it helps me to get stronger and to improve my technique.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Yvonne: My favourite training session is speed work at the track, like fast 300 meters. My least favourite sessions are long runs, I do not like to run slow.
James: Nutrition obviously plays an important part in the life of a professional athlete. What would be your typical dieting habits in the lead up to a big race?
Yvonne: Nutrition sure is an important thing. It’s important to take enough carbohydrates and proteins and of course I do pay attention to do so in the lead up to a big race. I always bring ‘eierkoeken’ (=egg cakes) to races, a typical Dutch recipe. I always eat one two hours before the race.
James: What is the worst injury you have had to deal with in your career to date?
Yvonne: I have been lucky to not have experienced many bad injuries. My worst injury was a rupture in my calf muscle in 2009. It took me 8 weeks to recover, not too long, but it happened in the middle of track season, so it kept me out of the Worlds that year.
James: Which one of your competitors on the circuit do you have particular admiration for?
Yvonne: I really respect Jenny Meadows. She is a great athlete with top classifications in several European and World Championships in the last few years. She is a front runner, which shows that she is a strong and brave athlete, something I can learn from!
James: How would you describe your relationship with Global Sports Communication and how have they helped you?
Yvonne: I have worked with Global Sports Communication since 2008. They have helped me in the process to progress from a national athlete to international level and become the athlete I am today. Also, with Ellen van Langen in their team as a former Olympic Champion in 800 meter, they can give me good advice about race tactics, planning my race season and that sort of stuff.
James: How would you describe the state of athletics in the Netherlands at this moment and the country’s prospects at the London Olympics? What should be done to raise the profile of the sport even more in your country?
Yvonne: Athletics is not a popular sport in the Netherlands. Our country is much more into soccer and speed skating. There are only a small number of athletes in the Netherlands who are competing at the highest level in athletics, so there is also a smaller chance that we will medal in the Olympics. To get athletics at a higher level I think it is important to stimulate the sport in schools, so younger kids will get to know the sport and will experience how much fun athletics is.
James: Away from the track, what are your biggest interests?
Yvonne: Beside being an athlete, I am a student in Medicine. It is not always easy to combine these two activities. My one big dream is to win the Olympic gold, the other dream to become a great doctor. So I am grateful that I have the opportunity to chase both dreams.
James: What one country in the world would you like to visit most and why?
Yvonne: I still have never visited the United States! So that destination is on top of the list. I will probably visit the US in October for holiday.
James: Thank you for your time Yvonne and the very best of luck in 2011.
Yvonne: You are welcome!