Japan (JPN) vs. Belgium (BEL) women - Pool B #7032062

Van Gestel was first called up for the Belgian national team in 2015

Belgium women’s national team will have to face the 2024 international season and the following ones without their captain as outside hitter Celine Van Gestel surprisingly announced her volleyball retirement.

One of the faces of her country’s national team for the most part of the last decade, the 26-year-old player is ready to start a new life outside the courts after several years of full dedication to the sport.

In an interview with Belgian website Nieuwsblad, Van Gestel revealed that the possibility of ending her career has been in the back of her mind for quite some time and that she ultimately made the decision to experience life outside the sport.

“I understand that this decision will be surprising to the outside world and to people who don't know me, but it is certainly not surprising to my intimates,” she reflected. “They know that I have been thinking about this step for years. All the time I kept asking myself: 'Is this really what I want?'. So I have thought about it carefully and discussed it in detail with those close to me or with teammates, who have since become friends. Some understood it, others had a more difficult time. National coach Kris Vansnick gave me time to think about it.”

A six-time Belgian champion, Van Gestel has been playing outside her home country since 2019, having spent two seasons in Germany, including the last one with Ladies in Black Aachen, and three in Italy, with Il Bisonte Firenze.

According to her, being away from home for the vast majority of the year was a big factor in her decision.

“I was always away from home, I always had to say no to social events,” the Belgian added. “People often think that you experience fantastic adventures abroad - and often it is wonderful - but they don't see that you are alone in your apartment from six o'clock in the evening, where you have to eat alone and watch TV alone. You may have your friends within the team, but that is not quite the same as what you have at home. I found that increasingly difficult. My boyfriend plays volleyball in Belgium and he could come over for a weekend, but I couldn't ask him to completely turn his life upside down.”

Türkiye (TUR) vs. Belgium (BEL) women - Pool B #7062076

Van Gestel had her farewell with the national team during last year's Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Her main successes with the Belgian national team were a silver medal at the 2022 FIVB Challenge Cup and a bronze medal at last year’s European Golden League. Van Gestel’s last appearance with the Yellow Tigers happened during the 2023 Volleyball Olympic Qualifying Tournament, in Tokyo, last September.

The Belgian plans to waste no time in starting to write the next chapters of her life as she’ll dedicate the next months to concluding her graduation in nutrition.

“I am now doing my last internship,” she revealed. “I had to spread my studies over several years during my volleyball career. At one point I thought I would quit, but a professor convinced me to keep going. And now I really want to be a dietitian for children.”