PULDERBOS - The best of the young Belgians in billiards has changed colour. 15-year-old Luca Philipoom is a born Belgian, but will play his first Dutch junior three-cushion championship next week. The move to the Orange team is possible because Luca has two passports. His father Jef Philipoom, the former world champion, is Belgian, his mother Bianca is Dutch. ''I’m allowed to choose which country I want to play for,'' Luca clarified. ’’And I found out that in the Netherlands there is a much better culture and education for younger billiard players with lots of training hours, two professional trainers and coaches.'' Jef's billiards son, who’s father once was called ’The Lion of Pulderbos’ wants to follow in his father's footsteps. That was known early on, but at the age of six Luca made a brief foray into football. ’’I was so short that I couldn't reach the billiard table. So that's why I didn't like it so much anymore and joined the village club, FC Pulderbos, to play football.'' But soon he returned to his first sport. The 'little lion' is now, at 15 years old, playing billiards for three hours every day, has already gained a lot of international experience, gets 12 hours of lessons a month in the Netherlands and is playing the junior championship there, Friday 2, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 February at Hotel Restaurant Dallinga in Sluiskil.
Kozoom and the KNBB sought out the Belgian Dutchman for a preview of the Dutch title race. Luca Philipoom talks about his youth, preference for orange, sporting ambitions, the growth and development of young talents, the Dutch approach and his title chances.
Frits Bakker/Kozoom: How does that make you feel Luca, as a young Belgian playing for the Netherlands at 15? What was the main reason? How did you come to that decision?
Luca Philipoom: It had come up before, because we saw that young players are handled much better in the Netherlands. We spoke at the European Junior championships in Antalya with Dutch president Paul Brekelmans and with Jean Paul de Bruijn about the possibilities. That was over six months ago when decision was made: the big advantage was that I got training and coaching there and that the Dutch federation offered a lot more opportunities. So that's how it went with that transition, it all was arranged quickly. I now follow Jean Paul de Bruijn's and Christ van der Smissen's trainings along with the other Dutch talents.
FB: Your father Jef became world and European champion for Belgium. So your billiard heart is in the Netherlands from now on. And talking about your father: you surely also have ambitions to go very far.
Luca Philipoom: I made my choice for billiards at the age of 11 and will do anything to reach the top. I used to train with my father, now we do an occasional game together, because it doesn't work well. It's better for a strange trainer to make me better. I feel I am becoming more mature, technically better, mentally stronger. I was quite wild at the billiard. I could quickly get angry with myself when I lost. Now I've already become much calmer, I can concentrate better, even when things are a bit off.`
FB: You almost live the life of a professional athlete, isn't it? With school, training, tournaments, competitions?
Luca Philipoom: My days are quitte long indeed. I am studying sport and science, in my fourth year. I also go and train for three hours every day at De Ploeg, fifteen minutes from home by car. At home we have a small billiard table, I never play on that anymore. Then there are the federation training sessions of Dutch Federation in the SIS centre in Uden with the two trainers, 12 hours a month. So yes, actually quite a lot of hours.
FB: How do you see the statement: young billiard players in the Netherlands and Belgium are rare, the sport is ageing in these countries. As it is now, we are falling behind South Korea, Vietnam Spain and Turkey. What would you say to young athletes who want to play billiards?
Luca Philipoom: Billiards is such a wonderful sport, also for young people, that it should definitely not disappear. Especially in the last two or three years, more young people are coming back. The Dutch federation is very active, my mother does a lot for the Verhoeven youth circuit in Belgium. So things are looking much better again than a few years ago. A lot is also being done in Europe with tournaments and training camps by the CEB and Longoni. My tip, which my parents got from Frédéric Caudron when I was very young: start right away with three-cushion instead of the classic training with free game. Young billiards players should start playing three-cushion right away, the same as Koreans, Spaniards and Turks. That's where most of the talent is coming from at the moment.
FB: What do you want to do with your education in sports and science?
Luca Philipoom: I can go either way with it later on. It does get harder and harder, but I want to finish school. Where that will lead later, I don't know yet. My first ambition is to reach the world top as a billiard player.
FB: What a huge surprise it would be if you become Dutch champion right away in your first championship. How big is that chance?
Luca Philipoom: Why wouldn't it be possible, I worked hard. The favorites are Tom Slikker, last year's champion, Joris van 't Zelfden, who plays very well, and who knows where I can get to. I will do my best against the top, because after all, I am much younger than the favorites. I will try to give them a hard time anyway. In any case, I trained really hard for it. I can't blame myself for that.