Athlete of the Month - September 2011
Identical twins, Nikolaos and Apostolos Gkountoulas of Greece have always rowed together and in that time had some terrific success – even after moving from lightweight to open weight. Nikolaos and Apostolos talked to World Rowing just after competing in the 2011 World Rowing Championships where they raced in the incredibly tough men’s pair event. The brothers are World Rowing’s Athletes of the Month.
World Rowing: Just about your whole rowing career has been together, did you start rowing at the same time?
Nikolaos & Apostolos Gkountoulas: We grew up in a village called Servia in northern Greece where we have a beautiful lake (Polifitos dam).One day we saw rowers on the lake and we just couldn’t stay away from it. After a short time I turned to kayaking and it was exiting but eventually we found out rowing is better suited to twins.
WR: Are you identical twins? Same height and weight? – are you both left or right handed?
N & A: Yes that’s right. So the others can’t tell one from another.
WR: What are your 2000m erg scores?
N & A: We are trying to be close to 6 minutes and, yes, it’s not easy at all.
WR: Do you ever race or train against each other in singles?
AG: From 2000 to 2004 we used to be scullers so we had big fights against each other. Usually Nikos beats me which still “hurts” me.
WR: Are you competitive with each other?
N & A: We always feel so competitive and this helps us to try harder.
WR: Outside of rowing do you live together/spend time together or have more separate lives?
N & A: The truth is that for five years I feel like I’ve been a twin with all of the national team members due to the time we spend all together in camps, but outside of rowing usually we have common friends but always we are trying to find time for ourselves. I guess we are quite independent.
WR: What do you like to do to get away from rowing?
N & A: We love to ride our motorbikes in the countryside, meeting friends, spending time with our family and reading books. Unfortunately we lack time.
WR: You started off rowing lightweight, why did you decide to go to the heavyweight?
N & A: Until 2008 we were lightweights. When we won gold at the World Rowing Championship in the lightweight pair, we understood that our performance was equal to the openweight pairs. It seemed reckless at that time but that was the challenge for us.
WR: How did your race go in the final at Bled?
N & A: It was one of the toughest and fastest races that we’ve ever done. We really believed in a medal but the experienced Carboncini and Mornati (Italy) had also a fantastic race. We are satisfied with our performance.
WR: Racing in the men’s pair, what do you think it will take to beat the New Zealanders?
N & A: It’s very easy for us: we just need an extra 20cm in height and 20kg in weight. We are always realistic. We are thinking step by step and for the next year will try to be closer to them.
WR: What is your view of the hype between New Zealand and Great Britain?
N & A: There is no hype for us. Every crew tries to be faster and faster in every race. They are both top level crews.
WR: Do you know if you will remain in the pair heading towards next year’s Olympics?
N & A: We would like to remain in pair, but it is also our coach’s decision.
WR: Did you get to see the rowing at the Athens Olympics? Was it inspiring to see the Greek lightweight men’s double?
N & A: We were there cheering for them. We felt so proud because of this medal. At that point we did not believe that these results were possible for the Greeks. Now we are friends with Vasilis Polymeros and Dimitris Mougios and they support us.
WR: Now that the World Champs are over where do you go from here?
N & A: After a couple of days in our home we have another race, the European Championships at Plovdiv. This will be the last race of the season. After that we will have almost three weeks without camps so we have some time to ride our motorbikes.
World Rowing: You have now raced at the European Rowing Championships. How much time off did you get after the World Rowing Championships before you had to start preparing for Plovdiv?
Nikolaos and Apostolis: We had no time off. For us the European Championships was a serious goal of the season. So we came back straight for preparation.
WR: How did you try to bring yourself up again for the European Championships after “peaking” for the World Rowing Championships?
N & A: It was really hard for us to be focused and motivated to prepare ourselves. We felt tired not only physically but also mentally, you know, sometimes it was so difficult to get it over.
WR: What was your aim for the European Championships?
N & A: In every race our aim is to be very competitive and to be able to do our best in every race. To have the Italians (third at the World Rowing Championships), it was an extra challenge for us to do a fast race against them.
WR: You have raced Niccolo Mornati and Lorenzo Carboncini (ITA) a lot lately. Do you know each other off the water?
N & A: Sure! They’re really great athletes and interesting personalities as well.
WR: Where can you be found the hour before a race?
N & A: We try to stay calm before the race. We are used to walking shortly before the warm-up, just clear our minds while we are also trying to prepare our bodies.
WR: Do you have anything special that you take to regattas?
N & A: Well, if you mean lucky charms or something like that, no, definitely not. But what we sure do take with us is the faith to race better every time.
WR: Where do you go after the European Championships and will you go straight back into training?
N & A: We have three weeks off and our priority is to have some time with our best friends and family. If the weather remains nice we will have a short road trip with our motorbikes around nice beaches - like the summer holidays!
WR: When you look towards winter training, what do you think about?
N: I really feel that this winter will be shorter because of my anxiety about the preparation for the Olympic Games. Undoubtedly this will be the most critical time of the year, but the final part of preparation is what really matters.
WR: Will you do any racing over winter?
N & A: In October we have a special race in Turkey between the Greek and Turkish eights – a two-nation cup.
WR: If you weren’t rowing what do you think would be your main focus in life?
N: Difficult question, I can only imagine myself as an athlete, but if I had to do something else I would like it to deal with outdoor activities or as a physical trainer.
WR: And the future… after London 2012?
N: Unfortunately Greece is going through an economic crisis right now which can affect our lives, so I can’t imagine my future.