Ties Kruize is a living legend of Dutch and world hockey. Six successive World Cups in a career marred by a horrific auto-crash underline the resilience and fortitude of this ace penalty corner striker.
The manager of the Netherlands team for this edition of the World Cup reveals his passion for the game in an exclusive interview.
What strikes you most when you look back on the World Cups?
The WC is a fantastic event. In my days there were fewer tournaments. The first in Barcelona in 1971 was a very special tournament as it was the first time the best countries of the world competed, aside of the Olympic Games, in a competitive tournament.
Personally it was not a pleasant experience as I was injured severely in the third match against Pakistan. A brutal attack on my knee resulted in an operation that kept me out for two months.
As a former player and an administrator, how do you see the growth of the game?
The growth of hockey is a very good. In countries like Australia, Germany and Holland, it has been a big sport. I therefore sincerely hope that India and Pakistan will be back on the top again as also countries like Korea, New Zealand and Argentina. A WC in their home country would certainly be an outstanding opportunity for India!
Do you think that the sport is growing in the right direction, or is there an element of stagnation?
I do think it is. Naturally we have to deal with the change of rules. But the abolition of offside and the new self pass rule have proved to be a success. Also, the financial side has improved.
Organising a tournament is much more expensive but also the players (in our country) earn substantial amounts of money with their hockey. It is important to handle these developments with care without killing the spirit of the game.
What is your best moment in the World Cup?
All tournaments bring special memories but if I have to name one I would like to refer to the WC in Amsterdam in 1973. Playing and performing for your home audience and then becoming world champion was an awesome and fantastic experience.
Give us a list of six players whom you admired.
It is a difficult question, as I have come along quite a few years and have to choose from several generations. Those who come to the mind are Ashok Kumar (India), Ulli Vos (Germany), Ric Charlesworth (Australia) and Teun de Nooijer (Holland)
What is your perception of Dutch hockey now, as there has been a decline in the rankings in recent years?
Dutch hockey has achieved poor results in the last few years. But we are working hard to get back up again. I am quite optimistic we will succeed and hope we will be able to prove these words right during the coming WC. I think Holland should perform within the first four ranking.
Yours is one of the greatest comebacks in sport after an auto crash... How did you feel when you stepped on to the field again?
It was indeed a very serious accident which I barely survived. The bone in my right upper thigh was completely crushed leaving a gap of 10 cm. This gap was filled with a bone from my hip.
In the beginning, I was glad to have survived. But after a while your mind strays back to playing hockey again. The doctors did not think I would be able to walk properly again and they were quite pessimistic. But the more people thought I would not succeed in walking, let alone playing hockey, the more anxious I became to prove them wrong.
With a very tight training schedule of four times a day and a strong belief in my own body, I played my first match again after one and a half years. That was a very memorable moment in my life.
What's your prediction for WC 2010? You can name even the top four.
The top four, but not in that order, would be Australia, Spain, Germany and Holland. Normally, I would be more specific in my answer but because of the fact that I am also team manager for the Dutch team I do not consider it right to predict a ranking.
What's your message to hockey fraternity?
Hockey is an incredible sport. The main thing is to enjoy the moments. Lots of things have changed but the real love for hockey in me will never alter. I cherish the fantastic memories of the tournaments I have played in India (and in Pakistan). We are not looking forward to the tournament but also to a magnificent stay in India.