Fly Epke, fly. For seventeen years, Epke Zonderland showed the sports world his skills, flying through the air. The Flying Dutchman, now 35 years old, ended a magnificent career in Tokyo on Saturday. The high bar specialist failed to qualify for a final Olympic final. And that was it, after an extremely difficult preparation, in which he constantly fought against physical adversity. “It’s fine this way. I don’t know if it’s going to get any better than this, I don’t think so,” he said of his farewell, at the NOS.
He seemed mostly happy, perhaps relieved. He knew that this was the maximum achievable with his preparation. He had already indicated in advance that there was a good chance that these were his last days of competition. The body is finished.
Zonderland, the sporting gentleman, will always remain the man of ‘2012’, the best moment of his career. London’s Olympic gold came when he dominated the gymnastics world with exercises that others simply couldn’t perform. As he combined the flight elements Cassina, Kovacs and Kolman in London; no one had ever cracked that code. It made him a great gymnast. And in the Dutch sports world. He was the first Dutchman to win individual gold in gymnastics.
But ‘London’ was far from the only success that Zonderland celebrated. In addition to that Olympic title, the gymnast from Lemmer also reached the final in Beijing (2008) and Rio de Janeiro (2016). In addition, he became world champion three times: in 2013, 2014 and 2018. He won silver three times. He is also part of a select group of athletes – including Ard Schenk and Anton Geesink – who were named sportsman of the year four times. Zonderland received that honor in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.