Blog post

Anton Geurts: from a homemade canoe to Olympic silver

Dutch canoeist in the 1960s

black and white photograph of a man in a canoe
Laura Schotte (opens in new window) (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision)

As a young boy Anton (Toon) Geurts used to go for walks along De Dommel in Eindhoven, the Netherlands with his father. That stream is where Anton saw canoers for the first time and he instantly fell in love with the sport of canoein. After World War II, Anton and a friend built their very first canoes from petrol tanks. They sawed the petrol tanks from airplanes that had crashed and then fused them together. The building of his own canoe was only the beginning of Anton’s dedication and willpower for the beloved water sport.

A southerner in the north

Anton was a precision craftsman at Philips and with a lot of negotiating he was able to get four hours per week off for his training. Friday after work Anton would then mount his bike and cycle the route from Eindhoven to Zaandam to train at the canoe club, de Geuzen. As a southerner, Anton had to compete with the canoers from the north. There was simply more water in the north and with that more canoe athletes from that region. But his talent, and even more importantly his willpower, were undeniable: in 1956, Anton qualified for the Dutch Olympic team, only three years after he first set foot in a canoe.

black and white photograph, young man working in a factory

Olympic silver

Anton participated three times in the Olympic Games for canoeing: in 1960, 1964 and 1968. But the Games in 1964 in Tokyo, they were unforgettable. Only an hour after Anton had placed sixth in the K1 race he had to be ready for the K2 race with his teammate, Paul Hoekstra. It was bad weather during the K2 and the crowd weren’t backing Geurts and Hoekstra either. The favourites to win were the Romanians and the Danish. But in the final sprint the Dutch duo overtook the favourites and placed themselves for silver, three tenths of a second behind the Swedes.

Anton’s wife was tensely listening to the race on the radio from her home in Veldhoven. At 7am, Dutch time, that tenseness changed into excitement. Barefoot she ran outside across the square to announce to anybody who could hear that her Anton had won the silver medal.

black and white photograph, six canoeists on podium wearing medals around their necks
colour photograph of a silver medal from Tokyo 1964 Olympics with a red, yellow, white ribbon

An Olympic torch on the roof

A young man from Veldhoven who was able to go to the Olympic Games and then also bring home the silver medal? That didn’t happen very often. His employer Philips honoured Anton at the workplace and gifted him a television. From the neighbourhood, he was gifted a bike and the celebration was an extravagant one. The annual 'route of lights' in Eindhoven was on 18th September and, in 1964, the route also came through Anton's street - naturally with illuminated Olympic rings made by Philips. The cherry on top was an Olympic torch on the roof of his house.

From 1968, Anton became a trainer for canoeing and he inspired many boys in the neighbourhood with his love and passion for the sport of canoeing. Next to being a trainer Anton kept working at Philips until his retirement.

This story

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision shared the video of the Return of the Olympic athletes from Tokyo (1964) on its Facebook page in relation to the Europeana Sport Collection Day on 9 September 2021.

One of the comments on the video was from Anton Geurts’ daughter; she shared a picture of his silver medal that she had saved for all these years. How special is that?! For the theme #EuropeanaSport she was invited for an online interview to share her father's story with Europeana, Sound and Vision and the rest of the world.

The Sport Collection Day takes place on 9 September in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Europeana and Sportraad Amsterdam invite you to share your personal sports stories at the Europeana Sport Collection Day. We are inviting anyone who has interesting and unique stories related to sports to bring their anecdote and / or objects to the event. Your story will be recorded and added to Europeana with an accompanying text and your pictures, objects and videos.

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We invite you to tell us about your sport experiences through objects like photographs, memorabilia, equipment or prizes.
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This blog is part of the Europeana Sport project which showcases cultural treasures relating to sporting heritage in Europe.

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