Athlete of the Month - March 2012
Despite Lassi Karonen’s background being mainly in winter sports, rowing soon became a big part of his life. From Sweden, Karonen made the national team for the first time as a 27-year-old choosing the single as the boat that best suited his situation. Since then he has been a regular a-finalist, became an Olympian and medalled at a number of World Rowing Cups. He is now preparing for Olympics number two and recently did a personal best on the indoor rowing machine: 15:04.4 over 5,000m.
Karonen is a popular competitor receiving admiration from spectators as well as his fellow competition. He opens up to World Rowing describing how he discovered rowing and the single.
World Rowing: You came to rowing a bit older than most. Which sport were you doing before this?
Lassi Karonen: I was brought up with cross-country skiing. My parents both skied but not in a professional manner. In the winter time we often travelled to different competitions for both adults and kids. My father built our house 100 meters from the ski track, so it was very easy to go out skiing. I was mediocre as a youth skier. I’ve always been interested in endurance sports like cycling, running and swimming, but also tried soccer, volleyball and basketball. I started with rowing in a "church boat" when I was 17.
WR: When did you decide to pursue rowing at an elite level? Was there a turning point?
LK: I decided to try for real at the beginning of 2004. Before that I was working as an engineer in building construction and was training mainly for exercise. The turning point was a competition on the erg in 2001 and the stimulus was that I improved fast and really felt that rowing was a sport for me.
WR: How did you end up in the single?
LK: At first I rowed the church boat. It is a very local phenomenon in the area where I’m brought up. We have small boats at my club as well but that was not interesting at first. I tried when I was 20 years old but it was too difficult and I flipped and got tired of it. When I had to get a job I moved to a different town and the church boat was out of the question. I started in a club with mostly students and we rowed mainly eights and fours. But I wanted to train more than most of my friends so I started to try the single more and more. So I guess it was both choice and circumstance!
WR: Your rise on the international scene was very rapid, what do you attribute this to?
LK: I think I had the qualities of a decent rower from the start but was not so good technically. So I guess I attribute it to good genes from my parents and hard work.
WR: Single scullers are known to be quite individualistic and unique, how would you describe the part of your personality that suits single sculling?
LK: Of course single scullers are a bit individualistic, it is an individual sport. But I guess it shows in different ways :-) I see myself as hard-working and very dedicated to the sport.
WR: What goes on in your head when you’re out for long rows by yourself?
LK: It is very different from time to time. Sometimes I think of daily issues, sometimes I think of songs that have stuck in my head and sometimes I’m very focused on my rowing and think of technical things.
WR: Do you have a training partner?
LK: Right now my assistant coach, Anders Christensson also functions as a training partner. There are also some guys at the club where I train. I also have some favourite training partners from my “church boat” days. My brother Antti (who was the one that made me start rowing in the first place) is also a favourite companion in training.
WR: It seems that most of the top men single scullers know each other well, how did you first get to know this group?
LK: When I for real wanted to get better at rowing in 2004 I thought that the best training is to train with someone who is better. I talked to Olaf Tufte, who was close by and the best at the time, to see if he wanted to train together. He was positive and I went to Norway for one week of hard training. The others I got to know better and better as we saw each other and talked at competitions. Me and Olaf are good friends and have regular contact. I also talk more and more with Ondrej Synek now that he is getting better and better at English.
WR: Last year you made it to the top of Megan Kalmoe’s list of hot rowers. Has this brought you any fame?
LK: I wouldn’t say it has brought any fame but it was, of course, flattering. It was my fiancée who told me about it by sending me a text message on the phone asking: "What are you doing on the competition sites anyway?" But hopefully she feels pride in making the catch! (laughs)
WR: What is your favourite moment so far in your rowing adventures?
LK: My victory in the Holland Beker in 2006 is a nice memory. The first national championship victory is also a nice moment. And the times I reached the podium at the World Cups are also memorable.
WR: Whom would you invite to dinner if you could choose anyone?
LK: Some Vikings from the 9th Century. We would talk about how life was like back then.
WR: Where are you at present?
LK: I am at my mother-in-law’s house near Mora in Sweden. I’ve been here with my family for a week now and we will follow Vasaloppet (ski marathon).
Lassi Karonen talks to World Rowing from his training camp in the Czech Republic and explains how his erg times are improving and how his big lung capacity has set records. Read on…
World Rowing: Where are you now?
Lassi Karonen: I’m in Racice in the Czech Republic on an annual training camp organised by the Swedish Rowing Federation.
WR: Describe your hardest day so far this month.
LK: It was one day on my training camp in Portugal at the end of February. I did 28 km of rowing in the morning and 28 km in the afternoon. It was exhausting.
WR: You set a new Swedish record on the erg for 2,000m. How did you approach this piece?
LK: I did it at a Swedish erg competition and I really wanted to break my old record. My strategy was to go out a little bit harder than the record split for the first 500m, then pace down in the middle to save for a burst in the last 500. But I felt I had to chase the split all the way and at the end it was a struggle to keep the splits down. It hurt but the good thing is that you know it will end and the faster you row the faster it will end. I got the time 5:44.4 and my prior best was 5:44.6 so I managed with a small margin.
WR: You also did a personal best a couple of weeks ago for 5,000m on the erg. Tell me about this piece. Did you plan to go for 15:04 or did it happen as the piece progressed?
LK: That piece I did in the garage at my mother-in-laws. As a test we do it at least two times every winter. I aimed to do a time below 15:10, but as I got closer to the end I believed I could do better. I really sprinted the last 500 and broke my old record by 0.5 of a second. From 15:04.9 to 15:04.4.
WR: What do you think in your training has enabled you to become faster on the ergometer?
LK: I think the main thing is that I have rowed a lot on the erg this winter. I think the erg is a very good tool to have during the long cold period in Sweden when we can’t go on water due to ice. It might also be that I try to push even harder this year because of the coming Olympics.
WR: I understand that you have the highest value for VO2 max ever measured in Sweden. What is the value? When did this measure get taken?
LK: I normally make around three of these tests every year; one test the week after the championships, one test later in the fall and one test at the end of the winter season. My best value I got was in the winter of 2006 and it measured 7.19 liters/min. I got the same value at two tests close to each other. Most of the tests since then I have measured around 7 liters.
WR: Tell us about your hobbies outside of rowing.
LK: I like to sit comfortably on the couch watching sports or film on the TV and eat nice snacks. I also like to spend time with my fiancée Linda and our two kids, meeting with my parents and siblings and friends and also building stuff.
WR: What is your occupation and how do you fit it into training?
LK: Right now I am a full-time rower. Before rowing I worked as an engineer in building constructions.
WR: Now that you’ve qualified for the 2012 London Olympic Games you will be going to your second Olympics. How do you think it will be different for you compared to going to your first?
LK: I think I will stay more focused on the actual competition and not that much what goes around outside the arena. The first time everything is super exiting.
WR: What is your overriding memory of Beijing?
LK: I remember my own races, the atmosphere and the meeting with other fellow sportsmen and women.
WR: What are your plans after London?
LK: I’m not sure. We will have to wait and see. I do know that I will visit and talk about my efforts with my sponsors who make this possible.