Athlete of the Month – January 2015
Jeremie Azou is currently one of France’s top rowers. In recent years, he and partner Stany Delayre have been helping to set the pace in the lightweight men’s double sculls. They are double European Champions and have two World Championship silver medals to their name. Azou has also collected medals in the lightweight single and quadruple sculls. At the London 2012 Olympic Games Azou and Delayre finished in the heartbreaking fourth spot. This has helped fire them up as Azou works his way to a Rio 2016 medal. For this determination, Azou is the January 2015 Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: Even before rowing, you were athletic. How and why did you become involved in sports
Jeremie Azou: I tried out several sports when I was young (football, tennis, gymnastics and swimming). I had always been a bit hyperactive as a child. It was a good outlet for me. I did four years of swimming (from eight to 12 years old) before I chose to tackle rowing. I swam seven times a week. This is how I learned the basics of training and how I began to compete.
WR: Why rowing?
JA: After spending four years counting tiles at the pool, I had had enough. I decided to stop and change, even if I had a good level. My initial idea was to go into athletics or triathlon because I had potential in these sports. My father suggested that I try rowing, a sport I had no clue about at the time - no one had ever rowed in my family. At my first trial I recognised friends from my childhood. I initially stayed on because of my friends, until the day they stopped rowing… then I kept on going.
WR: You have won a number of medals in various boat classes over the years – LM1x, LM2x and LM4x. What do you find special about each of them?
JA: In lightweight sculling, the double is the only boat class on the Olympic programme. This boat is consequently the most interesting from a sports viewpoint and the most motivating. As I mostly evolved in the lightweight double, it is the boat in which I have the most experience, the most results, and therefore good memories. It is a boat that is still easy to row in. That is why it is necessary to have the deepest level of cohesion possible if you want to make a difference. That is what I like about this boat class.
In France the selection system is based on the individual value of each rower. Each year the French National Championships make it possible to nominate the two “chosen ones” in the single that will make up the double for the international season. The single is consequently the inevitable and mandatory path any French lightweight sculler has to take if he wants one day to go to the Olympic Games. It is actually a big part of our training: nearly the whole winter preparation is done in the single. I also still am, and remain, a solitary soul. I like to only be confronted with myself, to know my value and be alone on the water during morning training when the sun rises. It is both a moment of fulfillment and an inner void.
The lightweight quad is the prize boat. Nothing is more beautiful than a collective win. I won my first international medal and come from a club that specialised in this boat class. So it is my heart’s favourite. The gliding, speed and feeling of cohesion remains exceptional when it is felt in this boat.
WR: What is the rowing result you are most proud of?
JA: This is a very difficult question, but for now I would say our final at Henley (2014 men's double sculls). The setting, the race format, the face-off between lightweights and heavyweights, the legendary aspect, the competition, the race outcome and difficulty, the marginal victory, the British atmosphere… the list is too long but it seems that it is the result I am most proud of at the moment.
WR: What is your main strength?
JA: Without hesitation, my mental strength. I think I’ve had this quality from the beginning. I’ve certainly inherited it from my upbringing.
WR: What would you say is your principal weakness?
JA: Technique for sure. I have a rather basic and pragmatic approach to the rowing stroke. I constantly need to work on my technique to enter the “mould” when I row in a partnership.
WR: How do you and Stany complement one another?
JA: I think we feel good in our respective roles. In his position, Stany constantly needs to adapt himself to my movements. He needs to copy my manner of doing things exactly as a chameleon would. His challenge is to give 100 per cent using a style that is not his own. As for me, I am free to impose my style. I set the rhythm and try to be as regular as possible. I must be a metronome. As for the rest, we function in the same way, which is what makes us strong: listening to one another, trust, rigour and weight management.
WR: How would you describe your main competitors in the lightweight double?
JA: We are lucky to have great competitors. Each have their own signature: I like the South Africans’ technique, the Italians’ fighting spirit, the Norwegians’ affability, the Germans’ youth. Without forgetting the Swiss who I find form a super tandem.
WR: You recently clocked 5:57.5 on the indoor rowing machine for 2k. How did this take place?
JA: I beat all of my reference times during the preparation phase. But I was quite careful as nearly the same thing happened to me last year and I ended up scoring 'only' 6:09.5.
I began prudently with an average of 1:30-1:31. At 1,000m I knew I would go under six minutes. I still had good legs and was able to do a fantastic final 500m (1:26.6). This explains the final time: 1:30.1, 1:30.7, 1:30.2, 1:26.6. I am very proud to have gone under the legendary bar of six minutes. I hope to still improve.
WR: Do you have a favourite regatta venue?
JA: Aiguebelette of course. We go on a lot of training camps there with the national team. The conditions are usually ideal, the setting is simply magnificent and it is close to Lyon where I live.
WR: You are the godfather to the French junior team. What does this mean to you and how do you fulfil this role?
JA: I have had this position since 2009. Each year I go and see them during their final preparation. I am often the godfather of one boat in particular. When I come in, I try and communicate important messages: combining sport and studies is possible – it requires good organisation but it is achievable. I speak about dieting with those who would like to be lightweights. I encourage them to ask me questions using social media, to share with them as much of my experience as I can. The most important part is motivating and sharing my experience. I am convinced that a few words and some advice can change a career.
WR: How would you describe the current status of the sport of rowing in France?
JA: We are suffering from a lack of visibility (as too many Olympic sports are in France). The amateurism that affects our sport also protects it, I believe, from doping and other forms of abuse. All French rowers study and have a job in addition to training. On average, a French rower finishes their rowing career with a Masters’ degree. I think that's great. I think we are not far from the perfect equilibrium an athlete can achieve. The semi-professionalism remains the best compromise, in my eyes.
WR: You are a physical therapist and have recently done further training in osteopathy. What led you to choose this profession?
JA: I was lucky to know what kind of job I wanted to do from an early age. In my environment, I always knew physical therapists – maybe that is what triggered my vocation. I am currently finishing my training in osteopathy (I will be qualified in June 2015). I love my profession; the relational aspect with my patients, the satisfaction of being able to relieve pain in people. I like to say my hands are my work tools. I would like to establish my own care structure once my sporting career is over. I am also involved in businesses to implement preventive measures and train staff about posture. I like the concept a lot and remain persuaded that a big job remains to be done in-depth to limit certain pathologies such as muscle and skeletal disorders.
WR: How did you manage to combine professional studies and rowing at elite level?
JA: It was not easy. I think it slowed down my progression. But I do not regret anything. My years spent at physiotherapy school were hard: I did nothing but work and train, with hardly any social life outside. I was in 'no life' mode. It was just horrible. But people say that with time all memories become good memories.
WR: You’re quite the musician. Tell us about it.
JA: I took drum lessons as a teenager. I continue playing the drums for pleasure and try and not lose too much of my skill. Around 15 years of age I began playing the guitar. In 2012 I had nearly finished my physiotherapy studies and had more free time, so I began to teach myself the piano. I wanted to be able to play Yann Tiersen’s hits. Now I’ve achieved that I play every weekend and every weekday evening when I have time. Music is the best antidepressant that I currently know. Didn’t Friedrich Nietzsche say: “Without music, life would be a mistake, an extenuating chore, an exile”?
WR: What are your next goals in rowing?
JA: The French championships: the mandatory way to preserve my seat in the lightweight double. Also the international season, with the World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette. Racing on home waters will be something unique. More secretly the Olympic Games in Rio. Since the London final I especially train for this race.