Athlete of the Month – April 2018
Lithuanian sculler Saulius Ritter, 27, is an Olympic silver medallist and a regular on the podium at World Cups and Championships. He had a challenging start to 2017 but has been gearing up for the 2018 season in sunny Greece, after chilly winter training on cross country skis.
World Rowing: How did you first discover rowing and why did you stick with it?
Saulius Ritter: I was introduced to rowing by my mother when I was 13 years old. I remember how she took me to my first training session with her former teammate who was working as a rowing coach. Since both my parents were also rowers, I tried to fill their shoes.
I wouldn't call it love at first sight because when I was younger winter training was really boring for a kid when the lakes where frozen. But, during the spring I had a serious excuse to skip classes. Later on, I just started loving the competition which drove me to set bigger goals every day.
WR: Did you ever consider doing any other sport at the top level?
SR: Before rowing I tried some other sports like basketball, swimming and boxing but I think I was too young and a bit too fat to take it to the higher level. As a kid I was a bit chubby.
WR: Where do you train?
SR: Currently I am with our Lithuanian national team, training at the Olympic training centre in Schinias, Greece. It's the last week before we head for competition to Italy, to Memorial Paolo D'Aloja.
WR: How did you spend the winter?
SR: We try to stay on the water as long as possible to make the break from rowing shorter but in December we are forced to stop due to the ice on the lakes. Sometimes it gets really risky when some rowers flip the boat and the coaches can't be there with the motorboats. So, we take up stationary training in closed facilities. We do things like biking, erging, sometimes swimming or games at the basketball court. But often teammates get really competitive and forget to watch out for potential injuries.
Once a year, usually in January, the team goes to high altitude training camps for cross-country skiing. It is used as physical preparation before rowing camp but we devote some sessions weekly for erging and gym training so we don’t lose power from the muscles necessary for rowing.
WR: What has been the highlight of your career?
SR: Winning a silver medal at 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It has always been a dream and I believe most athletes desire to compete and win at the Olympics because it's the second biggest sporting event in the World.
WR: What were the highs and lows of your 2017 season?
SR: The beginning of the 2017 season was quite complicated. I had to overcome a nasal septum operation and the rehabilitation meant my start to training was much slower than desired. But the real low of the season was the semifinal race at the European Championships in Račice. We spent most of the race in the qualifying spot for the final but lost by a small margin in the last few metres and didn't make it to the final.
The high of the season was the World Rowing Championships in Florida. Maybe our fourth place was not what we were aiming for but it was a great experience in every way.
WR: You switch regularly between the quad and the double, can you describe how you feel about rowing each different boat?
SR: I love to switch between different boat classes if I have the opportunity. It helps me to be more flexible and gives me the ability to adapt speeds or power. It is very useful when I get back to the boat class that I’m planning to race for the main events of the year.
For me, the quad and double are similar with the sense of movement and the feeling of speed compared to the single, so I prefer bigger and faster boat classes.
WR: What do you want to achieve in 2018?
SR: Well, the ultimate sporting goal is winning the World Championships this year but I would also like to move into the house I've started building last autumn.
WR: Which top sports people do you most admire?
SR: Mostly I admire athletes that manage to be on the top level and switch between different sports and still achieve great victories. Athletes like Rebecca Romero, Hamish Bond, Birgit Skarstein.
WR: What’s the best advice anyone gave you in your career?
SR: The best advice was given to me by my mother when I was only a beginner - that in rowing the hardest working muscle has to be the brain. I believe that stands in every sport, more or less.
WR: What do you do when you are not rowing?
SR: I like to spend my free time with my girlfriend, walking or taking a car trip to some beautiful places, recovering from hard training sessions. Although, I don’t have much free time because I have to finish my university studies.
WR: Can you tell us something about yourself that people may be surprised to know?
SR: When I was a kid, I sang in a choir and played the flute. Also, I love cats.