British coach and commentator Mitch Fenner will take over as head coach of the Dutch men’s team, effective immediately, the Royal Dutch Gymnastics Federation announced late last week.
Fenner, 65, is well known for his BBC gymnastics commentary with Christine Still, has been a consultant for the Dutch men’s program since 2010. His rise to the top of the Dutch gymnastics hierarchy should be a boon for the program, which finished a dismal 19th at the 2011 Worlds and did not qualify as a team to the London Test Event.
In an interview with a Dutch National press agency ANP, Fenner said he didn’t believe that the 2016 Olympics were a realistic goal for the Dutch men’s team, but named 2014 as a year that the program will be aiming for a best-ever finish at the World Championships. Fenner noted that his goals were to create “unity and ideal conditions in consultation with sport manager Hans Gootjes.”
Fenner’s nomination comes in the midst of men’s program drama between Epke Zonderland and Jeffrey Wammes, who faced off for the Netherlands’s only men’s spot to the Games at last month’s Test Event. Though Zonderland finished higher in the all-around in London in January and thereby seems entitled to the berth, the Dutch gymnastics federation has reserved the right to name Wammes to the Games should Zonderland be deemed not to have shown good preparation.
Wammes has hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the Dutch Federation, contending that Zonderland has not yet shown readiness while he, Wammes, has. But time has not run out for Zonderland — a medal at a World Cup final or the European Championships in May would likely be good enough proof for the Dutch that he is up to the challenge of representing the Netherlands well at the Olympics, sealing his Olympic berth. While Wammes is excellent on floor and vault, Zonderland has the bigger chance for an Olympic medal, given past results on high bar (fourth at the 2008 Olympics, second at the 2010 Worlds).
Wammes, 24, is still a great candidate for the 2016 Olympics. And hopefully Fenner will be able to succeed where previous Dutch coaches have not this quad, in bringing a group of talented individuals, including up-and-coming all-arounder Bart Deurloo, (maybe the most underrated gymnast in Europe) rings specialist Yuri van Gelder and team players Michel Bletterman and Anthony van Assche together in 2013.
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