For most students, their careers only really start after they’ve left university. However, for Bianca Baak (24), her studies in Business Administration at the Vrije Universiteit were more of a necessary interruption to a career that had begun much earlier, as the fastest woman over ten hurdles. This summer, she wants to compete in the European Championship.
By Rene Rector
You excel in the 400 metre hurdles. How did that come about? “When I was in the first year of high school, I received a homework assignment from my PE teacher: I had to train at an athletics club. My friend did hurdles at the time, so I thought that would be fun. At first, I did everything, from sprinting and long jump to hurdles, but I was soon singled out. You have to be fast for hurdles. Actually, hurdles is just sprinting, but with obstacles. Other than that, you mustn’t be afraid of the hurdles, and over longer distances it’s important to have tactical insight. Over short distances you use the three-step technique, which means you take three steps and then a hurdle, then another three steps, and so on. You always jump with the same leg. But you can’t do that over three or four hundred metres, and then you have to be able to think clearly and quickly. It turned out I was able to do all of that, and in no time I was with a regional trainer.”
That explains why you’ve become better and better. But is hurdling also fun to do? “Yes. It’s very varied, because there’s so much involved such as technique and speed. But at the bottom line, I’m also motivated because I’m good at it and I really enjoy winning. You just want to be the best. You do it to stand on the podium. That’s why I’m focussing more on the 400m hurdles.”
‘I train 18 hours per week alongside a job for 24 hours per week’
Does it take up a lot of time? “I train for 18 hours per week alongside a job for 24 hours a week as an assistant accountant. My current employer gives me all the space I need to combine work and sport. In the summer I’m abroad just about every weekend and training during the week makes me less employable. As soon as I started looking for jobs, I found out that a lot of companies are very interested in having a top athlete on board, but many of them back out because it’s impossible to make it work. Is it still fun to train so hard? ‘You train a whole year to be in top form for one week. If you’d asked me three weeks ago if that was fun, I would have had to think very hard about that question. Now I’ve run a personal best of 56.74 and achieved a B-limit for the Dutch Athletics Union, which makes the European Championship an actual possibility, and is very motivating into the bargain. But you don’t just have to walk a fine line physically between top fitness and injury. It’s also emotionally tough. I have to sacrifice a lot to be able to do this.”
How did you manage that during your studies? “I didn’t have a student life like the one most students have, but I didn’t miss it either. I’m abroad for a month each year, and I’ve seen the whole world. This gives me another kind of experience and I notice the effect of it constantly in my private life. A lot of my friends are also top athletes, and that means you don’t have to explain anything to them. There are also those who don’t completely understand what I’m doing it all for, but they do respect my choice. If that respect isn’t there, then you grow apart.
In itself, Business Administration was a pretty relaxed course. There were few contact hours and each quarter I received a new timetable, but that basically just meant that I had to adjust my training schedule each quarter. That was simple enough, although I had little or no contact with other students or teachers. The thing about the Vrije Universiteit that’s stuck with me most of all is the grey building.”
‘A lot of companies would like to have a top athlete on board, but back out because it’s impossible to make it work’
Which brings us to Business Administration. Many top athletes want to keep working in sports after the conclusion of their sporting careers. You don’t, however. Why is that? “I enjoy puzzles. That’s what attracts me to bookkeeping. I also really wanted something substantial for when I stopped with sport. Most athletes peak in their late 20s and then their performance decreases. That’s when my business career will really begin.”
How do you imagine your career will be after sport? “Right now, I can’t even think about not being involved in athletics. That seems awful to me. Athletics is my passion, and I hope to find that same passion in my work later.”
CV Bianca Baak
1992 Born in Almere | 2004 Member of athletics club | 2007 Dutch champion in 300m hurdles girls C | 2009 Bronze at the European Youth Olympic Games | 2010 – 2014 Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Accountancy at the VU | 2012 – 2015 Dutch champion in women’s 400m hurdles four times in a row | 2013 Silver at the European Championship | 2014 Assitant Account bij FIRM24 | 2015 Assistant Account bij IBEO