Athlete of the Month - November 2009
This year Julia Michalska became the first Polish woman to become a World Champion (along with doubles partner Magda Fularczyk). She did it in front of her home crowd. Julia tells World Rowing about what it’s like to be out of the single and what she’s doing to get rowing better known in Poland.
World Rowing: What was it like racing in front of your home crowd at this year’s World Rowing Championships in Poznan?
Julia Michalska: It was really amazing. During the last 300m it felt as if we had a third person rowing in our boat. It was exactly as our coach had told us before the race. “You only need to row 1700m, for the last bit the crowd will carry you to the finish line.”
WR: Are you recognised now in Poznan?
JM: No, not really. Sometimes people ask me if we know each other because they remember my face from somewhere. Although we got quite a lot of attention in the Polish media, rowing here is still being confused with canoeing…
WR: Is your main training venue the Malta Lake course in Poznan?
JM: We spend most of our time in training camps, mainly in Wa?cz (where the Polish Olympic Centre is based), but we also go to France or Portugal. It is only between the camps, when I go back home and get to row on Malta Lake.
WR: You have changed from rowing the single to now racing in the double. How did this change come about?
JM: After Beijing our national team manager decided that all the women scullers would be coached by my coach Marcin Witkowski. We started this year by building a quad. However, the speeds we were getting weren’t good enough so our coach decided to look for the fastest double and put one of us in a single. Finally Magda (Fularczyk) and I ended up in the double and Agata Gramatyka in the single. For me rowing in a crew is just a new challenge and I am trying to make the most of it.
WR: You have known your doubles partner, Magdalena for a long time. Now that you are competing in the double together has it changed your friendship?
JM: Rowing in the double didn’t influence our friendship. If anything it has strengthened it. Even while rowing in different crews, in the past, we used to support each other a lot. We have known each other since 2002. In 2005 Magda moved to Poznan and joined my rowing club ‘Tryton’. Back then she was seriously injured and out of the national team for almost two years. She really deserved this year’s gold medal after all she had gone through.
WR: Do you miss rowing in the single?
JM: I enjoy rowing in every boat and find being in a crew sometimes even more challenging than rowing on my own. However, I had been in a single for almost 10 years so, yes I miss it. This season was very different, for I was training with a group, rowing in a quad and different doubles. It was very exciting. We are the first Polish women’s crew to win the World Cup and the Worlds. Maybe one day I will come back to the single.
WR: Did you take a break after the World Rowing Championships?
JM: Yes, I finally had a holiday this year and I spent it with my fiancé. We went to New Zealand and watched the Great Race between the men’s eight crews from Oxford and Waikato Universities and women crews from Sydney and Waikato Universities. From Hamilton, where the race took place, we flew to Christchurch and spent one week traveling around the South Island. We were hosted by George Bridgewater (New Zealand Olympic medallist). It is an amazing country and for me it was the best holiday I ever had.
WR: Where are you at present?
JM: I’m back in Poznan. I really enjoy living here; I finally have a bit more time to catch up with my family and friends.
WR: What are your plans for this month?
JM: I'm trying to stay in shape but also to get some rest from rowing. Recently I have been mostly swimming, running and cycling. I spend a lot of time helping my club to get new sponsors. I also work on my own project – I've just opened a recreational division within my rowing club. I would like rowing in Poznan to be as popular as cycling or running. We have the beautiful River Warta that is really worth exploring. We want to encourage people to get involved in rowing and to link sport with tourism.
World Rowing: In the last interview you said that you are working to link rowing to tourism in Poznan. How is that going and what stage is it at?
Julia Michalska: At the moment we are trying to get some funding to buy more recreational rowing shells.
WR: How do you describe rowing to someone who’s never done it?
JM: I tell them they should be open to new experience and just go for it because it is great fun. People love the atmosphere in the club and the possibility of training outdoors on the river which is so close to the city centre. Most of them have never trained for any sport so here they find themselves in a completely new environment. They really enjoy learning how to control their bodies and how to work as a team to make a boat move.
WR: When you retire from competitive rowing do you hope to stay involved in the sport?
JM: Am not sure. Sport has always been a very important part of my life. However, it could happen that after fulfilling my sport ambitions I move to something completely new, but it is difficult to say at this stage.
WR: What is your current non-rowing project?
JM: The main non-rowing project is my education.
WR: In the last interview you talked about your fiancé. Is your fiancé involved in rowing?
JM: After winning this year’s Boat Race with the Oxford University crew, he decided to retire from rowing. Wedding? We still need to find a free spot in our busy dairies!
WR: If you were stuck on a desert island with one other rower who would that be?
JM: From the international rowers I would chose Jarman Majda from Slovenia. We had lots of fun during regattas. The main topic of a conversation? We would probably laugh all the time.
WR: You mentioned that you are taking a rest from rowing this month. When do you think you’ll be back in the boat?
JM: We are back on the water in January. Poland is pretty much frozen over the winter but we are going to a training camp to France.
WR: When will your next rowing race be?
JM: My next proper race will be in Poznan - spring qualification for the national team.
WR: Would you say you like training or racing better?
JM: I like both. Training calms me down and racing gets me excited.
WR: What’s your best 2km ergometer time?
WR: what do you like most about the rowing off-season?
JM: Spending time with my fiancé and catching up with my life.