Athlete of the Month - January 2011
Here we are in the thick of indoor rowing season and what a better way to highlight it than by profiling Henrik Stephansen. The Dane has broken more indoor rowing World Records for 17 year olds, 18 year olds and the open lightweight men (three times!). He is the only lightweight man to go under six minutes for the 2000m test and all that is just part of his training to go fast on the water. Stephansen is World Rowing’s Athlete of the Month and he tells us about his background in rowing and what makes him tick on ‘that’ machine.
World Rowing: Tell us a bit about your background in rowing. Is it in the family?
Henrik Stephansen: I started rowing in August 2000. By that time I was sailing a wayfarer as a Sea Scout. I wanted to do a more physically active sport and some of the scouts were at the rowing club so it was natural for me to start rowing. For the first couple of years I wasn’t racing but rowed tours in larger (traditional) boats. My older sister rowed but stopped a couple of years before I started and my mother started two years after me.
WR: Who inspired you in rowing in your early rowing days?
HS: When I first started it was just fun and for the first couple of years it was more social with not much competition. Then one of the trainers, Helge Thormod Bauer, started to take us to competitions. That’s when I started to row more and more seriously. Then Helge left and I changed clubs and got another coach. Jorgen Andersen was my coach from 2003. He took me to Junior Worlds in 2005 and 2006 and under-23s and Senior Worlds in 2007. He is still my club coach. Nete Kodahl is my idol. She was rowing at my first rowing club and was the only competitive rower in the club when I started.
WR: Do you have a favourite sportsperson?
WR: Do you remember the first time that you sat on an indoor rowing machine?
HS: Yes, I was eight years old in a fitness centre with my mother. It was before I started rowing. The next time was at our rowing club and I was put on a rowing machine as part of our lesson to learn to row.
WR: Do you remember your very first erg test?
HS: I was at a local competition and I finished third. I walked around wearing the medal for the rest of the day. I don’t remember the time that I did. I think it was a 500m or 1000m distance.
WR: When did you realise that you could do something special on the erg?
HS: I think it developed slowly over a couple of years. But I did know the first time I set a World Record at the British Indoor Rowing Championships in 2005 as a junior. I think I rowed 6.15. In the same year I rowed it a bit faster so I’ve still got the record.
WR: What do you think it is about you that makes you good on the erg?
HS: I think it’s my oxygen uptake and possibly because I can ignore the pain on the erg. And hard training.
WR: You hold the current record for lightweight men at 5.58, do you think that you can break this
HS: I hope so, I think I can go a bit faster.
WR: Do you plan to try? Which is your favourite indoor rowing competition?
HS: If it is relevant to my training, I’ll try to break it. My favourite competition is the Danish indoor rowing championships because there’s a lot of people I know there or CRASH-Bs because of the big crowd.
WR: On the water you have swapped between the lightweight single, double and quad. What is your favourite boat?
HS: The double. The boat I row in is decided by the coach. This year I wanted to go in the single rather than the quad because I thought I would have a better chance at developing my technique. So it was my decision to row the single (at the 2010 World Rowing Championships).
WR: What did you do after the World Rowing Championships in New Zealand?
HS: I had two weeks in New Zealand (on holiday) and both weeks were very fun. Then back to Denmark.
World Rowing catches up with Henrik Stephansen to talk about winter training, his hobbies and medal dreams.
World Rowing: What has your training been like this month?
Henrik Stephansen: We’ve mainly been doing long distance training but we did do 1000m and 500m pieces on the rowing machine because we have the Danish indoor champs at the end of the month (29 January). We’re not on the water as the lake has been totally frozen since November 20th. So it’s been a long winter as the lake froze really early, earlier than normal. It normally freezes mid-December to mid-January.
WR: And your hardest day this month?
HS: Hmm, it could be 7 x 4 minutes at 32 stroke rate with 3 minutes break. That was a tough one. Also 1500m max, a break, 1000m max, then 2 x 500m. There was a 10 minute break between each piece.
Hopefully we’ll be back on the water soon. About two hours away there’s a spot that hopefully will be unfrozen soon so we’ll go there in early February.
WR: What will be your first on-the-water race this season?
HS: The first is a 6km on the 13th April if the course isn’t frozen. Then again 1st May.
WR: How do you prepare yourself in the two hours before a rowing race?
HS: I like to sit quietly and clear my mind of anything that can distract me. I try to empty everything out of my mind. It’s the same if I do an indoor rowing competition.
WR: What do you like to do outside of rowing?
HS: I don’t have much time but I do like to scuba dive and go spear fishing.
WR: What piece of technology do you always have with you?
HS: My watch, a Polar sports watch. I take it in the boat with me. Also I try to keep my phone with me, but I often forget it.
WR: What is your future goal in rowing?
HS: Overall it’s to get an Olympic gold medal. I hope it will be in the lightweight men’s double.
WR: At London 2012?
HS: That’s hard to say at the moment, but I’ll definitely be aiming to go.
WR: What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t rowing?
HS: I think if I’d never started rowing I wouldn’t be very sporty. Maybe I’d sail a bit as I sailed before I started rowing, but it would be just for fun. I still like to go sailing. If I got injured and couldn’t row then I would do an adaptive sport competitively. I’d choose something physical like wheelchair racing.