A while ago (to be exact, here and here), we reported on former Dutch star Verona van de Leur, who was airing her dirty laundry in public, accusing her parents of stealing her money and opposing her relationship with her much older and frankly rather dodgy-sounding boyfriend. For a while, Verona was everywhere, giving magazine interviews, appearing on talk shows, and airing her grievances on her website. Then she more or less disappeared, not even bothering to show up at the Dutch Gymnastics Federation's traditional end-of-year gala, where she was to be honored for her achievements. Her failure to show up at the gala sent tongues wagging, not just in the tabloids, but in the serious media. The following story is a translation of an alarming article published by Volkskrant, a Dutch quality paper.
(photo: Thomas Schreyer)
"Call Me If You Need Me"
The Gym Gala, with which the Dutch Gymnastics Federation traditionally closes off its year, should have been her evening. Last Saturday evening [December 20] in Almere, the Federation was going to publicly say goodbye to former gymnastics diva Verona van de Leur, named Dutch Female Athlete of the Year in 2002. But it wasn't to be.
Last summer Van de Leur severed all ties with the gymnastics world and her family. In November she told a spectacular story about it in Revu magazine. To Van de Leur, gymnastics – that fermenting mix of youth, envy and ambition – had become an open sewer. In April, after the European Championships in France, she left the team following an almighty row.
Frans Koffrie, pater familias of the Dutch gymnastics community, tried for months to contact the gymnast. The President of the Federation, who is about to retire, was hoping his personal appeal would entice Van de Leur to make one more appearance at the gala. After all, there was a sponsor (Univé) who wanted to give her a farewell present after six years' loyal service. Koffrie was counting on the friendly ties he had built up over the years with one of his most prominent gymnasts to persuade Van de Leur to come.
It wasn't enough. According to the gymnastics community, Van de Leur is at the mercy of her boyfriend, who is seventeen years her senior. Some even fear she has fallen into the hands of a pimp.
Verona and her boyfriend (photo taken from Verona's website)
Van de Leur responded only once to the invitations the President of the Federation texted her, her answer being a resolute no.
According to Koffrie, the Federation had reserved a seat for the former gymnast on row 6 at the Tuesday gala. Gymnast Yuri van Gelder, Dutch Male Athlete of the Year 2005, was also sitting there. Van Gelder used to be quite close to Van de Leur, but has lately lost touch with her. "And I have no wish to discuss the matter," he said shortly before performing on the rings in Almere. Apparently the subject is too painful for him.
Suzanne Harmes, a gymnast equally celebrated as Van de Leur, says she used to be on friendly terms with Van de Leur. They shared the same clubs and coaches. "But she never responds to my text messages. She wants nothing to do with us, the gymnastics world."
It was obvious in Almere that the gymnastics world has lost Verona van de Leur and is ashamed of it. With ten-year-olds training thirty-three hours a week, gymnastics is a socially demanding sport. Many girls suffer a delayed transition into womanhood, including menstruation. Therefore, the rise of the Dutch women's gymnastics team has not been without its detractors.
Van de Leur, who won a silver medal at the 2002 World Championships, used to embody that rise. She had gone through the tricky transition into womanhood and risen to become captain of the Dutch team. The shy child had become a talkative young lady.
(photo: Iris van den Broek/Gymnasticsphotography)
That new Verona van de Leur had almost become a friend, Federation Doctor Liesbeth Lim said last Saturday in Almere. They had gone through much together over the years, and discussed many things.
Lim, who provides retired gymnasts with follow-up care, stayed in close touch with Van de Leur for quite a while after the April European Championships. However, in September the gymnast told Lim she no longer required her services.
Said Lim: "Verona wanted a clean break from the world she had been living in. On the one hand, that's understandable. She clearly wants to be left alone for a while while she figures things out for herself, which is normal. On the other hand it has turned into a worrying situation. Lately I've been hearing a lot about [boyfriends who turn their girlfriends into prostitutes, whose modus operandi is to isolate their girlfriends from their loved ones]. I've told her again and again, 'Call me if you need me.' She can call me any time. Any time."
On December 27, just after Christmas, Verona van de Leur will turn 23. Neither her friends from the gymnastics world nor her family will be there to celebrate her birthday with her.