Happy Birthday, Bram!

“Bram has taught me the most important fundamentals of the sport: training principles like being patient, but even more importantly to have fun along the way. His enthusiasm is infectious and together with his experience he was the perfect coach for me.”

(Noah Schutte)

On any given Wednesday, Bram stands almost still, only taking a few paces here and there as he gives his instructions to his latest generation of athletes. So many come and go. So many mix up their schedules and are there only every second week or two out of three weeks. Bram though is a constant; as if his leather boots feel most at home on the synthetic track. He is one of the first to arrive and generally one of the last to leave. He sits in the blue-benched change rooms, head slightly bowed going over his infamous handwritten schemas, dishing them out to his athletes, chewing on his gum. His eyes are alert. He punctuates his conversations with forceful laughter. After all, running is serious, but not too serious. 

Daan Hoek, says: “Bram has always been different from other coaches. He never wants his athletes to focus solely on running. But that they have to make sure it works and fits well into their life. They have to become better people as well as becoming better athletes. It should be complementary.” 

While he displays his own fierce commitment to the clubs he has coached, he always leaves some wriggle-room for good times - things that some times may be at odds with the strictures of being an elite athlete. Perhaps he was like that also as an athlete: someone who trained hard and performed well. But who was also willing to party a little. After the European club cross-country championships in Portugal in 1995, Bram and Jan Kortekaas, had a night out on the town. One thing led to another and, heavily inebriated, they had to find their way back to the hotel. Jan gave the taxi driver very precise directions: “it is a white hotel.” With dawn fast approaching as well as their flight also leaving soon, the two weary athletes, slowly emerging out of their drunkenness, spotted a poster on a hotel advertising their race, indicating that they had made it to the right location. Of course they made it to their flight on time. 

Bram’s former athlete and current coaching protege, Han Kulker, remembers that they started their partnership at the right time. ‘He needed an athlete he could invest his knowledge in and I needed the right coach to take me to where I could go. I was relatively late to the sport and things then went quickly for me.’ Han speaks of Bram’s intricately planned training schedule: whether it be leading all the way up to a final at an international championship, or his yearly planning for which races Han should compete in. “This gave me a lot of confidence, going into a major tournament. Oh, so, I’m going to make the final am I? It clearly showed that he had a lot of confidence in me.” 

In the 1500m of the 1986 European Championships, one of Han’s most memorable races, the crowd kept a steady, rhythmic clapping throughout the entirety of the race as the athletes jostled for position in what started off at a tardy pace, before building to a greater intensity over the last 800m. Han, hanging out in the back half of the tightly packed bunch, was on the inside for much of the race before weaving his way through in lane two and perhaps wider to catch up to Cram and Coe as they sought to break away. In the stands, it was too much for Bram: for he ripped the pockets out of his tracksuit with excitement. “Kulker, a surprise third,” said the commentator. 


Bram’s times as an athlete continue to stand up. (800: 1:47; 1500: 3:39, ex-NR; 3000: 8:02; 5000m: 13:48). Never mind that they were made in a time long-before carbon shoes and other kinds of helpful innovations. His times, through which athletic success is overwhelmingly measured, strengthened his authority as a figure to be held in esteem. Yet his coaching isn’t based on his own glory as an athlete. It is to do with bringing a range of athletes, in different sports, to their best. Bram, after all, gave up the opportunity to compete at the highest level, when some fellow athletes were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Bram, was one of the few athletes to head home in the wake of the killings. Avery Bundage had decided that the show would go on. Bram, 52 years later, has no regrets. “Zelf ook nooit spijt gehad van mijn beslissing” - “I have never regretted my decision.” Although sport is always political, Bram didn’t want to be a part of an Olympics which went on, pretending as if nothing had happened.


Although Bram has invested his time and energy in any number of clubs and athletes, we know him as the most prominent Leiden Atletiek coach from the last few decades. His reputation always precedes him. Sometimes his schemas aren’t to every athlete’s liking: ‘why are you giving me such slow paces for my track workouts?’ To which he shall reply, ‘what is your PB?’ Only once a PB is satisfying to Bram, will be bump the athlete up a level. It is key that the athlete doesn’t burn him or herself out during a workout: what counts is the performance on race day. 

Standing as upright as a candle on the straight next to the clubrooms, he watches over the athletes as they do their reps. He doesn’t need to check his watch if someone is running too fast for what he has prescribed. ‘Niet te gek, jongens’; ‘nothing too crazy, guys’. Daan, again, says, “even when you think he is not watching you; even when you think he is not paying attention to you; he is.” 

Maikel Stolwijk, winner of the Leiden Marathon in 2022, and whose trajectory has been well and truly under Bram’s training: “this has been the highlight of my running career. Bram was with me for a lot of the way - riding behind me, of course. That is the thing with Bram, he gives you his unstinting support. He shows his belief in you.” 

Author: Andy Fuller 



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