Velge Eyes 2020 Olympics as Member of U.S. Field Hockey Team
Rising sophomore Eric Velge is a world-traveling student-athlete, who balances his studies at Carnegie Mellon University with playing field hockey for the 2019 U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Training Squad.
During his first year at Carnegie Mellon, Velge's balancing act included his work as a double materials science and biomedical engineering major, a rigorous workout schedule at the Cohon University Center gym and monthly team practices in New York and Los Angeles. During school breaks he travels to places such as Chile and South Africa for practice games.
He learned to play field hockey at age 5, and became proficient in the sport in his native Belgium, home to the world's third-ranked men's field hockey team. With no field hockey at Carnegie Mellon, he was unsure he would play again, but a phone call from U.S. coach Rutger Wiese changed that in a big way. As a member of the U-20 Men's National Training Squad, he has his eye toward the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Two tournaments will determine the U.S. team's chances to qualify for Olympic competition. The World Series Finals in India took place in June, where the team placed fourth, and the Pan American Games July 26-Aug. 11.
"If we win the Pan American Games, then we qualify to the Olympics next year," Velge said.
Velge said going to the 2020 games in Tokyo would be "incredible," but winning the PanAm games will be difficult with Argentina, the world's second-ranked team, in the field. However, if the U.S. team performs well, its ranking will rise and that could elevate them into the competition.
Velge is cautiously optimistic. "Hopefully, I'm thinking we have better than a 50 percent chance," he said.
Even as an Olympic hopeful, Velge finds many of his peers are dubious about his chosen sport.
"When I talk to people, they're a bit skeptical about it because they don't really know what field hockey is. When I tell them I play for the U.S. national team, they're stunned," he said.
Coach Wiese said that working with Velge has been great.
"His composure on the ball and understanding of the game make it very easy to help develop him into a better athlete," Wiese said. "His ability to coach and help his teammates on the field are fantastic and Team USA hopes to take advantage of those skills in the many years to come."
Velge said his schedule, which includes early morning workouts and classes, can seem overwhelming, but being disciplined and organized enables him to succeed.
"The fact that you have to wake up early, the fact that you have to balance it out," Velge said, "all helps you keep a certain life structure and allows you to stay healthy and allows you to plan out your days much better."
Velge especially stressed the importance of planning, saying a full schedule is "manageable if you organize yourself well enough."
Although he appreciates recognition for his skills, Velge said he feels field hockey deserves a little more credit on its own. He said people unfamiliar with the sport often overlook the strenuous physical demands.
"We play on a pitch that's the same size as a soccer field," he said, "but the speed of the game is probably the same as a basketball game because you are going back and forth all the time. And you're playing a game that is 70 minutes long."
Velge said he hopes to improve appreciation of field hockey during his time at Carnegie Mellon, perhaps starting a club if other students show interest. But even if other students don't want to play field hockey right away, he says making them interested and aware would be a good start.
"If anybody has questions about field hockey, they can always ask me," he said. "I'm very happy to stop and talk to someone."