"The first few days were very frustrating," admits twice Olympic gold medalist and coach of the Dutch women's field hockey team, Alyson Annan, of her experiences at the Maccabiah. "Compared to other [international sporting] events, things here are organized very differently. That's fine, but when you expect another level, it can be frustrating."
Annan, 32, and her close friend, Carole Thate, 33, also an Olympic medal winner, were asked to coach the Maccabiah team in a voluntary capacity by Frits Barend, head of the Dutch delegation and a prominent television presenter in Holland. Neither are Jewish, but say they did not have a good reason to refuse the offer.
Both with extensive international experience behind them Annan, an Australian who was twice voted best hockey player in the world and Thate, who captained the Dutch team at the Sydney Olympics, where they won bronze the conditions at the Maccabiah came as something of a shock to the Amsterdam-based pair.
Finding out that match times had been changed by getting a piece of paper pushed under their door the night before and the lack of suitable practice fields were among their initial complaints. "International hockey games have been played on artificial turf for the past 20 years and here we've played on grass," says Thate. "But we laugh about it now. When we lowered our expectations, things became a lot easier."
Thate explains that combining a sporting event with organized parties was completely new for them.
Annan and Thate have no regrets about making the trip here. On Friday, they accompanied their team on a visit to Yad Vashem, where Annan looked up the name of her Polish grandfather Czernicka and found several listings, leading her to wonder whether she has unidentified Jewish roots.
"It gives the Maccabiah a totally different perspective," she says of her visit to the Holocaust museum. "It's not a Jewish Olympics. It's about experiencing Israel together with other Jews and celebrating how Jewish culture is carrying on after the Holocaust. It's not just competing against each other." But old habits die hard and Annan continues: "On the other hand, we do want to win."
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