At 19, Maarten van der Weijden, of the Netherlands, was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukaemia. Given only a slim chance of survival, his treatment included chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, the scars of brain surgery are still visible on his shaven head.
At 27 and three years beyond need of medication, he is the first Olympic 10km marathon champion, a man hailed as swimming's Lance Armstrong. As others limped away from the pontoon in the rowing lake after a blistering final in which David Davies delivered a silver medal for Britain, the experienced Dutchman had a spring in his giant step.
At 6ft 7in, Van der Weijden is a monster of the waves. Where 23-year-old Davies, whose medal was all the more remarkable for the race being only his third over 10km, described the champion as being “like man mountain”, Mark Warkentin, the American, who finished eighth said: “Maarten's like this huge liner that you can't get round, and we're like little yachts being washed away.”
According to Craig Lord of The Times who described his winning as :
. . . relied less on physical size, however, than the magnitude of his mental capacity to deal with pain, attention to detail and experience. “The pain and fatigue that you feel in the water is what I went through for a whole year to beat the cancer, so, I know what to expect.” Given a new lease of life, Van der Weijden leaves nothing to chance. He has spent his nights in Beijing sleeping in a low-oxygen tent in his room at the Olympic Village to simulate high-altitude conditions and wearing glasses fitted with lights that wake him up fast and help him to produce naturally what the Dutch team doctor described as “higher levels of cortisone” and conquer pain.I am sure there are other heart warming stories during the 2008 Olympics. Young Mr. van der Weijden is my hero today!