Athlete of the Month - August 2009
PART I - IZTOK COP talks about Aging, Tufte and more..
Iztok Cop is a household name in Slovenia. In rowing circles he is known world wide. He has been to five Olympic Games and is working towards number six. In between he has competed at every World Rowing Championships since 1990, that’s 14 of them. Iztok is on the 2008 list of Top 10 Male Rowers and was awarded the FISA Crew of the Year in 2006, with then crewmate Luka Spik. Iztok is World Rowing’s Athlete of the Month for August as he presses towards world champs number 15.
World Rowing: Where are you at present?
Iztok Cop: I just got home from a training camp and will now go to Munich for one week. We’ve never been there before [for a training camp]. It’s the coach’s decision. I think it’s because they can follow us down the whole course on bikes.
WR: What’s the main focus in Munich?
IC: It’ll be like most rowers at this stage. We’ll start working on speed. We’ll build it up this week and then polish it off when we get back to Bled (training venue in Slovenia).
WR: I understand that you are racing in a quad this year, what is the reason behind leaving the single and double behind?
IC: I want to pass my knowledge on to youngsters. I didn’t know how this season would work out at the start and this is how I ended up. There were five guys and they chose three for the quad (and me). I was part of the selection. We tested them all in doubles and then picked who matched the best. The three others knew each other as they’ve already been rowing together. I’m enjoying it a lot as they are learning from one training session to the next. So am I.
I learnt to scull differently so my rhythm is different from the other guys. So the main problem is synchronisation and this is what we have to focus on the most. Also because I think we have the weakest team on the circuit, we have to find our strongest point somewhere else.
WR: With your different rhythm, why were you chosen for stroke seat?
IC: We thought at the beginning the boat moved faster when I was in the middle or bow of the boat as it was easier for me to adjust to the other guys. But we thought if the boat could get my rhythm then it would go better. We’re getting used to each other now.
WR: You mentioned that your sculling style is different from your crewmates. How did this come about?
IC: Now that I’m older I try to stay in touch with the best style, as I am aware that I am not as strong as I used to be. So my focus now is more on technique and that has changed my rhythm as I try to relax more between each stroke more.
WR: Do you think you are slower because of having less time to train or is it from aging?
IC: I think it’s a bit of everything. I can’t train as much as before because I have a business and family. But also age, I feel it if I have two to three tough races in a short space of time. I need more time to recover. This year especially I did less training over winter and it showed in Banyoles [first stage of the Rowing World Cup]. I think it’s a bit easier to row in the quad, so I think I am still good enough to be one of the best in the quads.
WR: Before a race, what are you normally doing?
IC: Mostly relaxing, not thinking about the race. I’m a bit edgy so I like to be left alone for the last hour before a race.
WR: You’ve been known in the past for your regatta hair cuts…
IC: Are you still talking about them! Since the 2004 Olympics I’ve had my natural hair colour. It all started when I was rowing with Luka (Spik) because he did it. At the beginning we would do everything my way in the boat so it was a chance to do something Luka’s way.
WR: You have two young daughters, will you be encouraging them to row?
IC: They’re both girls so I’d prefer they do something else. But I’m afraid they are interested, as I think they are so used to rowing because they are around it so much. I have no plans to raise them as top athletes.
WR: So if you were stuck on a desert island, what rower would you most like to be stuck with?
IC: Olaf (Tufte) because we get along quite well.
WR: And what would your conversation be about?
IC: Rowing (laughs), I’m afraid. We’d laugh about it or curse about it. We can’t avoid talking about rowing. Even if we try to change the subject it only lasts a minute or two and then it’s back to rowing.
WR: Would you be agreeing or disagreeing?
IC: We’d be agreeing a lot of the time. I was able to tease him more in the past, but now he can tease me more. We’re healthy rivals on the water. Off the water we got along very well. This is the main reason I keep going in the sport.
WR: Which brings me to the Great8 that you raced in earlier this year [eight of the top single scullers in the world raced together in the British Head of the River race].
IC: It was fun and enjoyable. Even though we are eight individuals and at the beginning we couldn’t even move the boat, but then everyone tried to do the best they could. We’re not perfect rowers but we all approached it professionally.
WR: Was anyone the dominant voice in the boat?
IC: No one stood out. We worked as a team and in five days we managed to get it together.
WR: So who is the most famous person in your mobile speed dial?
IC: It depends what you mean by famous. In Slovenia? I have the number of the president, Mr Turk.
WR: That will work.
PART II - IZTOK AND THE WORLD CHAMPS IN POZNAN
World Rowing catches up with Iztok as he makes final preparations for the World Rowing Championships in Poznan.
World Rowing: Where are you now?
Iztok Cop: Back at my club (in Bled). We leave for Poznan on Thursday.
WR: How has your quad been progressing over the last couple of weeks?
IC: Extremely well (laughs). We have made progress and we hope we’ll be able to show it in the race. I hope we can all work together as one as we have less race experience. We’ll have to work in the race from start to finish.
WR: You’ve been on the rowing circuit for 20 years, what motivates you to get up in the morning and get back in the boat?
IC: I’m not sure of the main reason, but I love to do it and I’m aware that I’m not going to be able to do this for much longer so I enjoy each day. I take it as a privilege to be able to row. Being in the boat for me is refreshing and relaxing. It’s the organisation of things around the boat, especially when they’re not taken care of, that takes a lot of energy. Rowing is the easy part.
WR: So when racing over the years, who do you hate to lose to the most?
IC: No one in particular, but losing against friends is something I don’t want to do. On one side I want them to win but on the other side I don’t want to lose to them. I think the teasing afterwards makes the winning more of a pleasure. It’s a funny situation, I hate to lose more against someone that I also want to win.
WR: How will you be celebrating after the World Champs are finished?
IC: We leave that same evening. We couldn’t get the whole (Slovenian) team on the flight on Monday so it was decided to all fly together on Sunday.
WR: What do you look forward to doing most after the World Champs?
IC: I’m looking forward to the Head of the Charles and racing in the Great8. Also my oldest daughter starts school on September 1st. I don’t know what to expect, but it means our life rhythm will change as we’ll have to reschedule our life to fit with school. I’m also looking forward to holidays in October. I’m not sure yet what we’ll be doing but we might try to fit in with the Head of the Charles (in the United States) and maybe go to Hawaii to watch the Ironman.
WR: Have you ever had a summer of no rowing?
IC: Yes, up until I was 15! Since then, no, I haven’t missed any season. I’ve done every championships since 1990 and the junior championships in 1989.
WR: What is the longest that you’ve spent out of the boat?
IC: For three months over every winter I’m out of the boat if it’s cold or snowing. I’m out of the boat most years for this, especially in recent years when I do my own winter programme.
WR: Are you aiming towards the 2012 Olympics?
IC: Ooh, that’s a long way. I have a plan until August 30th and then we’ll see. I take it season by season. I have my business and now, the kids are starting school, there are so many factors to take into account.