Eelco Sintnicolaas is a top Dutch decathlon athlete. Recently, I joined Eelco for a day of training, to capture what the life of an athlete is really like.
Self coached athlete
What’s interesting about Eelco is that he no longer works with a coach. Being an experienced athlete, he feels that he can schedule his own training through his years of training. When he does need some outside advice or a wake up call there’s plenty of friends and colleagues who can provide him with ample objective feedback. What I found most interesting about Eelco’s choice was that it requires a very rigid self discipline. I feel it would be so tempting to just take it easy some times, with no one to push you. Obviously when working towards a goal and with the right mindset, a true world class athlete differentiates himself from the bunch.
What’s even more baffling is that Eelco trains not just one discipline, but ten. This means he has to train his technique for a huge range of different movements. I imagine this must be hard even if you have a coach who guides you through dividing your attention.
Dominating factor confronted with injuries
Now just to paint a picture of who we’re dealing with here: Eelco won the Dutch national championship for heptathlon (zeven athletic discipline) in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018. So it’s safe to say he’s been a constant dominating player for a decade or so. What’s more, he’s made it to both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. These events did not see him reach his full potential, and injuries have been a factor in his performance since. He seriously injured his wrist when he fell over a hurdle that was toppled over by a fellow competitor. His ankle has also caused some trouble. At present though, it looks like things are looking up, and this is where I picked up.
My goal: show how athletes train on a day to day basis
This shoot with Eelco Sintnicolaas is part of a mission to investigate how true athletes live and train. We’ve all seen what live sports look like and how the athletes talk in interviews. We’re familiar with the commercial and produced images their sponsors put out. What we don’t often get to see though, it the real work they put in. It’s so easy to just think it comes to them naturally. They seem gifted and performing is basically effortless.
Under Armour once put it like this though: it’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light. It’s this darkness that I aim to shed some light on. Being an athlete is not all rock and roll, and it definitely isn’t easy or comes effortless.
Training with Eelco Sintnicolaas
When I joined Eelco in Apeldoorn (the Netherlands), had two training sessions set up on the same day. The first would see him try hurdles again for the first time in quite a while. He also worked some technique and power for the throwing disciplines. After a relaxed lunch and a coffee back at his place, we headed back to the training grounds. In the afternoon, Eelco worked in the gym for quite some time.
Two things struck me during spending this day with Eelco. The first is that everything he did seemed super calculated. Yes, he worked hard, but it was not the senseless giving it your all, going all in, train till you drop that some brands like to advertise. Eelco made a plan and stuck to it. Training was hard for sure, especially in the gym, but it was very calculated. Make a plan, execute, go home and rest, repeat.
The second thing that struck me was how training as an individual athlete must be quite lonely at times. On this particular day there was a school class present at the track, but on any random day it would most probably have been empty. Luckily Eelco often gets to train with his girlfriend, who is also an athlete and lives in Sweden.
The full series showing how Eelco Sintnicolaas spends his day training is included below. The next athlete I spent time with is Bianca Baak, who won the Dutch championship for 400m hurdles multiple times, and is now working hard to recover from an injury.