Athlete of the Month - July 2016
Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands has been active as an elite athlete since his first participation at the World Rowing Junior Championships more than a decade ago in 2001.
His rowing career has centred around sweep rowing, mostly in the men's eight and the pair and his rise to success was a step-by-step progression. In 2005, Steenman became an under-23 World Champion in the pair with Olaf Van Andel. In 2008 and 2012 he raced at the Olympic Games in the men’s eight, making the A-final both times.
During this Olympic cycle, Steenman has focused on the men’s pair, winning a series of World Championship, European Championship and World Cup medals. He and his partner Roel Braas are top podium contenders in the men’s pair for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
World Rowing: Why rowing?
Mitchel Steenman: My parents were members of Rowing Club Breda in our home town. I started rowing when I was ten. Most of the time we didn’t row more than 500m before we started to swim and play around the boats. We did some fun regattas and after a few years it seemed like I was getting fast.
WR: Did you practice any other sports before you began to row?
MS: Before rowing I was playing tennis and speed skating.
WR: What do you study?
MS: I’m studying maritime technology but have decided not to combine rowing and studying to prepare for Rio. So at present I'm a full-time athlete.
WR: You are an under-23 World Champion in the men’s pair from 2005. How did this success inspire you
MS: In 2005 our main goal was the World Rowing Championships in the eight in Gifu. Before the under-23 worlds we had two weeks to make the switch to the pair. The result of rowing in the pair with Olaf van Andel was great. That year we also won the Dutch National Championships where we beat the best rowers of that time in the Netherlands. I then realised more was possible.
WR: You participated twice already in the Olympic Games. How would you describe those experiences
MS: Before Beijing we qualified at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. Just making the Olympics was a big performance. The final in Beijing was the best race we could do, finishing fourth was frustrating but it was all we had. Going to London, the individual athletes were a lot stronger but as a team we didn’t perform.
WR: What do you like about the eight? And the pair?
MS: The power and speed of the eight is incredible. But in the pair it all comes down to a very precise feeling of what the other does. I love the challenge of balancing the power.
WR: How is having already competed at one Olympic Games helping in your mental preparation for Rio
MS: Thanks to this experience, I now know what most of the distractions are. The Olympics always has surprise performances.
WR: Since 2015 you’ve paired up with Roel Braas. How do you complement one another?
MS: Most important Roel is starboard and I am port, that‘s already a good start. Roel is very strong and I’m a bit more technical.
WR: What would you say are your main strengths and weaknesses?
MS: Probably my biggest strength is my boat feel. My weakness is a hip injury which prevents me from rowing on the ergometer. My last session on the rowing machine was probably ten years ago. But it is also a strength. Even if the weather is very bad I have to go out on the water and I learn a lot from that.
WR: Where do you train?
MS: The national training centre is at the Bosbaan in Amsterdam and most of our sessions are at the Bosbaan. If we do longer sessions we start at the Bosbaan and after 700 m of rowing we carry the boat to a 70 km- long channel, so we don’t have to turn around every 2 km.
WR: What is your favourite/least favourite training session?
MS: My favourite training is lots of short sprints, just getting the boat to max speed and trying to get it faster every time. I also love a long steady session on a mirror-like lake somewhere in the mountains. My least favourite sessions are long sessions inside.
WR: How would you describe your working relationship with your coach?
MS: Eelco Meenhorst was coaching Roel in the single until he made the switch to the pair with me. After the switch Eelco became our coach and we discuss most things together. Our coach is part of the team and not someone who just tells us what to do.
WR: You've won the men's pair twice at the Henley Royal Regatta, most recently this year with Roel Braas and two years ago with French-Canadian rower Julien Bahain. How are these successes comparable/different?
MS: In 2014 my partner was Rogier Blink. Rogier got sick and wasn't fit enough to travel. My brother-in-law, Julien Bahain was rowing the single for Canada. A phone call was quickly made and we decided to race together. The first time training together was the day before our first race. The start was slow but after that we had very good speed. We won every time in very tight races, it was very hectic.
This year was completely different. Roel and I have rowed together for over a year now and know what we can expect. Henley was our last race in preparation for Rio. It was good to have a full race warm-up and the tension of starting a race, but we have never been under pressure. So the two victories were very different.
WR: You chased the Kiwi pair hard to the line at this year’s World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, finishing in a photo finish with Great Britain. What were your thoughts in the last 500 m of the race?
MS: In the heat we had a very good first 1500m but we had a very bad last 500 m. So in the final we wanted to make up for that. Unfortunately we didn’t have a good first 1500 m in the final and had to make that good in the last 500 m.
WR: Who have your biggest role models been in your sports career?
MS: No one special. Most athletes have something you can learn from, so I try to learn from everyone.
WR: How do you see life after Rio?
MS: After Rio I will compete at the World Rowing Championships in Rotterdam and then take two months holiday, probably travelling around Europe and then three weeks mountain-biking in South Africa. After that I will decide what to do next.