Athlete of the Month - December 2012
Kristof Wilke is one of the core members of Germany’s ultra-successful men’s eight, the “Deutschlandachter”. A 2012 Olympic Champion, he comes in as World Rowing’s Athlete of the Month for December. Kristof was just 23 years old when he competed, quite unexpectedly by his own admission, at the Beijing Olympics. Finishing out of the A-final in seventh place there was no doubt for Kristof that he would continue on. He hasn’t lost a race since.
At World Rowing we are proud to share with you a little more about Kristof.
World Rowing: Where are you at present?
Kristof Wilke: At the moment I’m in Dortmund, I’ve been here since 2005. I have to be here as it is during my semester at university.
WR: Have you started rowing training?
KW: I’ve started training again sooner than I originally planned, however I do not train like I did before the Olympics (three times a day). At the moment I train only once a day. As I’m currently studying a lot I only get to train when it’s already dark, so I’m rarely on the water at the moment. But I’m going swimming once a week so I’m in the water. It’s amazing how quickly you lose your fitness when you don’t do anything.
WR: You were one of the few from 2008 men's eight Olympic crew to carry on in the boat. Tell us about the difference between 2008 and when your crew started to win in 2009?
KW: At the Olympic Games in 2008 I was 23 years old and had not necessarily planned to be in Beijing and certainly not in the eight. While I was quite successful in the under-23 fields in 2006 and 2007 I never competed in an eight. That was the same for my teammates. We were all quite inexperienced in the eight and also had only two months to prepare ourselves to race in Beijing.
For me, after Beijing it was clear that I would continue to row and I had that attitude when I started into the year in 2009. Additionally there was a change of coach. Ralf Holtmeyer is a very experienced coach and he has brought us together as one unit. We all lived in Dortmund and could train in the eight every day. Normally in a post-Olympic year you train less than in other years but for us that wasn’t the case. In 2009 we trained as much as in 2008 and that was the foundation for our later success.
WR: How did you end up being in the stroke seat of the eight?
KW: In the spring of 2011 we were looking for a new stroke after Sebastian Schmidt didn’t qualify for the eight. I told Ralf that I thought I could row in that position. We tried it out and it seems that I didn’t do too badly because I have remained there for the last two years.
WR: If you could sit anywhere in an eight where would that be?
KW: As I’m short and very light, I usually ended up sitting in the bow. Later I also rowed in different places but never the stroke seat. In 2011 I had to familiarise myself with the tasks of the stroke seat, but I quickly found that fun. Nevertheless I always like sitting in the middle of the boat. But the main thing is that the boat runs!
WR: What is it like having to sit so close to coxswain Martin Sauer?
KW: Initially it’s really strange when you look into the face of the coxswain for several hours a day and he stares at you. But you get used to it quite quickly and, yes, Martin is handsome so you can look at him. I always liked that I could tell him directly what I noticed as stroke while rowing and he could pass it onto the team straight away.
WR: Your eight hasn't lost a major race since 2008. What has been your most challenging race during that time?
KW: Of the total of 38 races since 2008 every race was a great challenge but, of course, there are some which are special that I do like to look back on: all of the finals of the World Championships; Poznan in 2009 and in particular Lake Karapiro in 2010 when Great Britain came really close. This was truly heart-stopping. In Bled in 2011 we were in good shape and that year I never doubted that we would win.
The first World Cup this year in Belgrade was a very tough race because the British put us under pressure early on and never before were we in a situation where at 1000m we were still bow to bow with our opponents. The race gave us a lot of self-confidence. But the hardest of all races really was the final in London which demanded everything of you. I will hopefully never have to race such a race again in my life!
WR: Do you remember your thoughts the night before your 2012 Olympic final? How about in 2008?
KW: In Beijing I was very nervous before the semifinal. This was postponed by a day due to bad weather. I was very unsure and a little bit nervous about such a big event, the Olympic Games. This year I was less tense than I feared I would be. I also never thought that the race would take place tomorrow; the race that I had trained for for the last four years. I’m only really tense on the day of the race. The night before I usually sleep well!
WR: After winning Olympic gold we understand you have been doing a lot of media appearances. Tell us some of the more interesting requests that you've done?
KW: We’ve had some appearances in the media and some other enquiries and it’s still continuing. Among other things I was at a school to talk to students about my experiences in London and about my motivation and consistently working towards a goal. The students who myself and Carina Baer from the women’s quad spoke to are just about to have their final exams and the teachers hope that our motivational speech could result in performance explosions with the students.
I found this activity very interesting and had lots of fun with it and that’s good because I am studying to become a teacher of biology and sports and so will speak in front of students more often.
WR: What are your training plans for December?
KW: For December I have no big training plans. Generally I find it hard to train in winter when it’s cold outside, it’s raining and snowing and gets dark early. The rowing machine and I are also not good friends. And because I don’t have to currently, I don’t sit on it very often. I also won’t do any competitions any more this year, but will go into the New Year with good intentions and I will start it with the right training!