Athlete of the Month - October 2008
Mirka has been up there at the head of the field in the women’s single, challenging Ekaterina Karsten every time they race. Karsten has readily admitted that Mirka keeps her on her toes. The gutsy Czech sculler took the rowing world by storm from the moment she crossed over from athletics into rowing when she was 19 years old. World Rowing loves the attitude that makes Mirka Knapkova October Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: Tell us how you got into rowing.
Mirka Knapkova: I began rowing when I was 19. Before that I was doing athletics, specialising in mid and long distance courses. I was competing at the national level competitions. Even today I sometimes take part in the 1500m race in the women’s extra league. My personal best is 4:34. Both of my parents were rowers, my mum at the national level. She was a national champion in the coxed four. My dad was on the national team. He participated in the Olympic Games in Montreal in the pair (placed 6th) and in Moscow (placed 5th).
WR: Are you a full-time athlete?
MK: I became a full-time athlete after the Olympic Games in Athens. Along with my sport career I am also a distance learning student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at the Charles University in Prague.
WR: What was the main difference between competing at Athens and at Beijing?
MK: The main difference was that Beijing is on a different continent with different climate conditions (humidity, hot weather) than in Europe. It was a different time zone and we were competing in the afternoon. In Athens I was just happy that I qualified and that I could be there. It was my first start at the Olympics. I was more experienced from the international races in Beijing, had far more kilometres behind me and a lot of hours of training – I was longing for a medal. Unfortunately I was fighting a cold during the Games so I will not have many happy memories about Beijing.
WR: What was your race plan in the Final at Beijing?
MK: To do my best and to keep up with Michelle Guerette in the second part of the race.
WR: You went out fast in the Final at Beijing, what happened in the second half of the race?
MK: I felt really good during the first half of the race. I was missing energy and strength in the second part of the race. I am sure the result was also partially influenced by my health condition which was not really good.
WR: When you race do you follow a similar race plan each time or do you alter it?
MK: I rely on my feelings during the race, but I try to follow the tactic which I have agreed on with my coach.
WR: After the single at Beijing you subbed into the double, how did it go?
MK: It was not easy for me or for Gabriela. I had one hard race behind me and had a really short time to rest before the double. It was more psychological for Gabriela – big disappointment that her partner got sick and they could not fight together for the best result in the Final. Above all, that we had never rowed together.
WR: Did you take a break after Beijing?
MK: I did take a rest. I went for holidays with my boyfriend and I was trying to catch up on my studies which I had to postpone due to the Olympic Games. I will start training during this month.
WR: Since you started rowing what is the longest time that you haven’t rowed for?
MK: Two months – it was due to sickness.
WR: What is your training day like at present?
MK: My training day differs depending on which part of my preparation I am in. Right now, during autumn, I am focusing on persistence and strength. I am training two to three times a day.
WR: You became good at rowing very quickly. What do you attribute this to?
MK: I had never dreamed of doing rowing at a professional level when I started. I just wanted to try it out and make new friends. The truth is, I fell in love with it and was able to spend hours training.
WR: Is there any other female single sculler in the Czech Republic that can keep up with you?
MK: The second fastest rower is Jitka Antosova who rows with Gabriela Varekova in double scull. The difference between the two of us is approximately 15 seconds.
WR: Who do you train with?
MK: During the winter I usually train alone. When I train on the water, I train together with the guys from our club. Sometimes they join me for training camps as well. But it is never just one person who would be training with me all year long.
WR: Do you ever train in team boats?
MK: No, never. I have only raced a couple of times on the national level in other boats.
WR: If you weren’t rowing what do you think you would be doing?
MK: It is hard to say, I think I would be a ski instructor, or a guide. I could also be a teacher or would have two children and become a housewife.
WR: What are your rowing plans for 2009?
MK: I will be preparing myself for the World Championships that will take place in Poland. I would like to get a medal.
World Rowing: How much time have you taken off after the Olympics?
Mirka Knapkova: “After the European Championship I had 14 days off doing absolutely nothing and then I started to train whenever I felt like it. Sometimes I am in a boat but it is not part of the training. I am taking part in races during weekends to which I have been invited. The official training for the new season will start in November.”
WR: What did you do in your first training session back?
MK: “I ran up the hill of Petrin (318m high). You get a nice view of the whole city of Prague from the top.”
WR: What kind of cross training are you doing?
MK: “Running, in-line skating, swimming, weight lifting. And I am looking forward to skiing.”
WR: What is the focus of your training at present?
MK: “To further develop persistence and also coordination. It is important in the phase that the training is diverse. During fall I am planning on attending a cross-country running competition. In the upcoming season we will focus on co-operation with biomechanics. We would like to find a way of better power usage during the stroke.”
WR: If you had to choose, do you prefer training or racing?
MK: “When I switched from athletics to rowing I was surprised at how few races there are each season. I was used to up to 40 races a year. For the upcoming season I would like to take part in more races than before.”
WR: Now that it has been a couple of months, what is your strongest memory of Beijing?
MK: “Night ride in a rickshaw through Beijing and Internet realisation in the Czech house.”
WR: What was your most favourite and least favourite moment at Beijing?
MK: “I was experiencing the best moments right after arrival in Beijing and to the Olympic village. The Olympic atmosphere totally sucked me in. There were two worst moments. The first one was when I realised that my body was fighting sickness and I would not be able to perform 100 per cent. I felt really sad when I realised how much energy I had put into the whole Olympic preparation. I also felt sorry for the people who were cooperating with me and had trusted in me.
The second one was when I was told that I would start in two final races in a row.”
WR: Are you making any major changes for the next season?
MK: “As each year, we are trying to implement new things into my training. We plan to change the places of training camps and that is all I am going to say. Two years ago we started to cooperate with a manager and a team of experts of Katerina Neumannova (Olympic gold medallist, cross country skiing). That meant a major change in my preparation for me and my coach. We also want to continue in this cooperation for the upcoming Olympic cycle.”