Athlete of the Month - April 2008
Sweden’s lone female Olympic qualifier in rowing perseveres in solitude through long dark, cold winters, with training stints in warm South Africa. Her vision is to race the best female scullers in the world. Frida Svensson has steadily climbed up the women’s sculling ranks since she started racing internationally as a junior in 1999.
World Rowing: You are currently in a training camp in South Africa. Why South Africa?
Frida Svensson: It started 4 years ago. I met Ramon [Di Clemente], Don [Cech] and their coach Christian [Felkel] in Athens. Christian asked me if I wanted to come and train with their team when they are on camp. That’s how it started, and since November 2004 I’ve been coming back twice every year. In Sweden during winter time it’s cold and there’s ice on the lake, so Africa is great. It’s warm and I can row on the water, so it’s a nice change to all the training on the erg.
WR: How do rowers in Sweden deal with the dark, long and cold winters?
FS: We are used to it, so it doesn't really bother us that much. And we do have electricity so we are ok. I have been very lucky with funding from our National Olympic Committee (NOC) so I have been able to spend up to seven weeks in South Africa in November and December.
WR: How much time have you spent in Sweden this winter, and what kind of training were you doing?
FS: I have actually spent more time than usual in Sweden this year. I do of course most of the work on the erg, and also spend some time in the gym, on the bike and out in the track running (even if I do hate it).
WR: You won the women’s single at the 2008 FISA Team Cup in Seville, Spain. Was that an important event for you?
FS: We have been going to Seville on camp for the last seven years now. I think the FISA Team Cup is a good start of the racing season even if it’s early in the season. We take it as good practice. But of course, when it’s time for racing you always want to do well, so yes, it was a good win.
WR: What is your background in sport before becoming a rower?
FS: I did swimming but when it came to butterfly I realized that I needed more air. I couldn’t hold my breath for as long as one stroke.
WR: What do you feel are your best results so far?
FS: Eton of course. My World Championship bronze there meant a lot to me. The breakthrough race for me was in 2003 when I got my first international medal in the single at the World Rowing Under 23 Regatta in Belgrade. My qualification to Athens was another important step in my rowing career. The Athens Olympics made a big impact on me and made me realize why I want to do this, and that it is possible to reach the finals.
WR: What is your coach’s plan for you?
Coach Johan Flodin: My name is Johan Flodin and I’ve been Frida’s coach for 11 years. My plan for her is and has always been to help her develop as much as possible in regards of her special skills and strengths. The individual and final plan is to be described after the Olympic Games.
WR: Do you have any training partners in Sweden?
FS: I do most of my training on my own. I'm used to it and don't mind doing so. Sometimes I do some work with the rowing school where I started rowing. It’s located in Stromstad and that’s where I live and train for the moment.
World Rowing: How did the camp go for you and your coach?
Frida Svensson: The camp was great with lots of training. It was nice to be able to row on the water again without having to wear five layers of clothes. Since I do most of my training on my own, the camps in South Africa are very rewarding. I’m very thankful that I can join the South African team for their camps.
WR: What is your schedule leading to Beijing?
FS: Except from one camp in Austria, I’m going to spend most of my time training in Strömstad. The plan is to do all three Rowing World Cups.
WR: Do you have a favourite regatta course?
FS: I like the course in Eton, though I might be the only one. I must say that Lucerne is very nice, with the surroundings, the hills, the cows and their bells, and the course is great. The boat area and course are so close there is not much space so you get really close to everything and everyone. The Lucerne regatta is something I look forward to, but second to World Champs and Olympics.
WR: It seems like you have better performances in the later season races – is this because of the weather and training conditions in Sweden or how you plan your peak for the season?
FS: I guess I am just a slow starter. I can’t blame the weather conditions for that.
WR: What did you learn at your first Olympic Games in Athens that you will use to help you do better this time?
FS: Athens was a great experience - I loved every minute. I qualified two months before so I had to learn to focus quickly, going from total happiness, just by being at the qualifying regatta, to being qualified and focus on actually participating and representing Sweden at the Olympic Games. I learned at least that I really love what I’m doing and everything that comes along. I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I feel very lucky that I can live my dream.
WR: Are you still a gymnastics teacher?
FS: I still do a bit of work on the side. I feel that it’s important to do something else, to meet people with normal lives and other interests outside rowing.
WR: Do you have plans for a particular career after you finish your rowing career?
FS: A cabinetmaker -- someone who restores old paintings and furniture. I love old stuff and furniture. It has been a passion of mine for a long time.
WR: What fun things do you like to do when not rowing?
FS: Wish I had an interesting answer for this one, like bird watching or astronomy. But I’m a boring person, especially when there is a lot of training on the agenda, so then I read books (I love crime novels), watch movies, or just simply relax. I like food, and like to cook for family and friends. Interior design, photography and cycling are things I fill my spare time with.
WR: Do you have any holiday vacation or something different or special planned for after Beijing?
FS: Sunshine and a deck chair is all I want after finishing racing, but I have a couple of races left after Beijing, such as the Swedish champs, believe it or not. After that, I will go away somewhere, without a training kit and a training programme in my bag. I want to try mountain climbing.
WR: What does your rowing career beyond Beijing look like?
FS: Regardless what the result in Beijing is going to be, I want to continue rowing. I just have to convince my coach to keep coaching me, as I won’t find someone like him.
WR: Who are your major rowing or sport role models or mentors that you look to for inspiration?
FS: All athletes who live their dream and reach their goals. The rowing friends who support and encourage me, and make the journey towards potential medals make it so much more fun. My opponents - they both inspire and make me work harder to reach my own goals and dreams!