Athlete of the Month - September 2014
Elisabetta Sancassani is part of the growing number of women who have found success in Italian rowing. Last year she was part of the lightweight women's double sculls that made history by being the first Italian women to win a senior World Championship title with Laura Milani. This came after Sancassani swapped from being an open-weight rower to lightweight in late 2012.
Sancassani started off her international rowing career with a medal at the junior level before becoming an under-23 World Champion in 2002 at the age of 19 with Gabriella Bascelli. She then raced in the women's double sculls at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games before returning to the under-23 level and taking a second gold in 2005, this time with Laura Schiavone. The following year the duo finished seventh at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Sancassani is now in her second decade of international racing and she shows no sign of slowing down. World Rowing is proud to present Elisabetta Sancassani as our Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: How you first got into rowing?
Elisabetta Sancassani: In the small town where I live, Bellagio on Lake Como, rowing is the most popular sport. It was the sport practiced by my father when he was young. My hometown is the same as many World Champions like my brother Franco and Daniele Gilardoni. So one day (more than 15 years ago!) I gave the last kick to the soccer ball and decided to follow my brother Franco who used to attend the local rowing club.
WR: If not rowing what sport would you have chosen?
ES: Before turning to rowing I used to play soccer in my hometown men's team, but at a certain point to continue with soccer I had to play in a women's team and so move away from Bellagio to another town where the female team was.
WR: Where do you live and train?
ES: During the winter I live in Sabaudia almost all the time for training with my society (Fiamme Gialle - Sport group of the Guard of Finance). During the spring and summer I move to Piediluco where the national team training centre is. In the little free time left I stay in Bellagio, in my place in mountains or in the family’s bakery.
WR: Are you a full-time rower?
ES: For about the last eight years rowing has been my 'job' thanks to Fiamme Gialle. The big improvement has come when they allowed me to be a full time rower otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to be fully dedicated to rowing. Before this I tried to row and study at the same time, but my relationship with school books has always been disastrous so I put aside study books and I took the opportunity to devote all my time to rowing.
WR: Tell us about your 2013 World Championships race?
ES: If three years ago someone had told me 'you will become world rowing champion' and then added 'in a lightweight boat class,' I would have laughed no stop. The World Championship win was like putting the cherry on the top of a cake after a very positive season.
Crossing the finish line in front of everyone was my greatest release from the anger which for some years I had accumulated for many reasons, mainly because I lost my dad whom I was very attached. I saw the circle of life shutting down, because I have fallen so many times but somehow I raise myself and get back into the game again. I had continued to bet on myself without having any certainty, but only doubts and uncertainties.
WR: Tell us about your decision to switch from open weight to lightweight in 2012.
ES: Until the beginning of 2010 my total concentration was on rowing. Unfortunately, as I said above, my father became ill and so my first thought was for him, but I continued to row. The World Championships in New Zealand (2010) has been a hard test for me. I then stayed away from rowing for a few months for a hernia. Then I resumed, dividing my time between home and training camps.
Then I lost my father, a mainstay for me and my family. I then decided to try to qualify for the Olympic (2012) in the single, not because I hoped for individual glory, but because I was not a constant presence in training. Shortly after losing my father I broke a rib and so my training could not be constant. I did not qualify for the Olympics, but I asked Josy (coach Josy Verdonkschot) if I could train with the team during the summer in Varese, Of course not I qualified but I asked Josy the opportunity to train with the team during the summer in Varese, to be closer to home so that I could go to Bellagio easily.
When Josy and my team mates participated at the Olympics I was in Varese living with a continuous inner conflict. On one hand the incentives to continue rowing were few and the other if I had stopped rowing I would have had regrets. But, above all rowing let me give vent to the anger that the loss of dad had brought me. So one day during a workout, I thought about rowing under another guise. I talked with my brother and he said it was a good idea, so I took courage. From that day the idea became a small project that grew!
WR: Tell us about rowing with your lightweight doubles partner Laura Milani.
ES: Laura and I are part of the same club, so for eight years now we've grown up together and we are almost always together between National Team and club training camps. When we have days off we each have our own interests, However, since we also share the boat, we often hang out in the evenings or during the day and share many things together.
WR: What do you like to do in the hour before a big race?
ES: Now that I'm a lightweight I can’t wait until after weigh-in so I can have breakfast and enjoy the two hours before the race to read a few pages of a good book.
WR: What's the hardest training session that you've ever done?
ES: I do not like the winter months because for me it's like going into hibernation. All my movements are slower than normal and in those months almost all the workouts are long distances training session and I don’t like them because it seems that time stands still and everything takes an unbearable heaviness.
WR: If you could give one piece of advice to a rower starting out what would it be?
ES: I would advise him/her to practice this sport because it is one of the few sports that has remained clean. Also you learn to grow together with your team mates, you create true friendships.
WR: What's the most memorable bit of advice that your coach has said to you?
ES: Tira, ruza e tàs, which means 'pull, push and shut up.' This is the motto of the my club in Bellagio which is engraved on a wooden oar at the main entrance of the club and I grew up trying to make these words mine.
WR: What do you like to do outside of rowing?
ES: I like to stay at my family bakery where I help when possible. But now that I'm a lightweight rower it's awkward as most of the time I can only breathe these fantastic scents. I love to spend time with my animals; a dog, some turtles and a few donkeys. I like hiking in the mountains and cycling.
WR: What do you imagine you'll be doing in ten years time?
ES: I imagine a return to Bellagio, back to my roots. I imagine myself among the mountains, my family, my bakery and my loved ones, including animals and pets.