Athlete of the Month –August 2015
Currently one of Norway’s top rowing athletes, Are Strandli races in the lightweight men's double sculls with Kristoffer Brun. The two have been a team since 2007 and achieved their best result at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea, where they won gold. Since then, they have not missed a single podium internationally, whether at European Championship, World Cup or World Championship level.
World Rowing got to know a bit more about Strandli, his passion for the financial market, his seasonal addiction to avocados and mangos and the musical talents secretly hiding within the Norwegian rowing team.
World Rowing: Why rowing?
Are Strandli: When I was 16 years old, a friend of mine had gotten an advertisement for the local rowing club in the mailbox. He asked if I wanted to join him to check it out. After playing football for ten years it was very exciting to do something new and pretty soon I was hooked. I have to admit, like most other people I thought rowing was all about arm strength – I was almost disappointed when I realised that it couldn’t be further from the truth.
WR: You and Kristoffer raced together internationally for the first time at the 2007 European Rowing Championships. How did your partnership come about?
AS: During the summer of 2007, Kristoffer rowed the single and I was in the double at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships. We became good friends during the lead-up so we decided to try the double together. Very early, we felt that we had the potential to produce some magic in the boat.
WR: What makes you and Kristoffer Brun a good match in the boat?
AS: We have the same feeling for the rowing stroke and we are very in line on how we think it should be. Even though we are two very different people, we share a lot of the same thoughts and we have also become very good at taking advantage of our different strengths. This however, is something that we have been working on for many years together with our mental trainer, Cathrine Wilhelmsen. We were not good at it at all the first couple of years of rowing together and we are still improving on that matter.
WR: What keeps your partnership fresh and motivating?
AS: We are very good friends and we have a lot of fun together, both in and out of the boat. Since we spend so much time together, we are also conscious of the fact that we need to have some distance at certain periods. That is also a reason why we do a lot of our training in the single. Always setting new goals is another way of motivating ourselves and creating a boost in our partnership. That may be as simple as trying to master new technical tasks or trying to set new records on race pieces or similar.
WR: Where are you based for training throughout the year?
AS: During the winter when it’s too cold to row outside we have our base at the Norwegian Olympic Training centre in Oslo. Due to the climate, we travel a lot to get good rowing conditions. We spend at least four weeks in Avis in Portugal during the winter. We also go to high altitude in Spain and Italy. At the moment we are at high altitude in Livigno, but the last few weeks before the worlds we will be at Lake Årungen, our summer base just outside of Oslo.
WR: After a number of years rowing together, you won your first medal at the 2013 European Rowing Championships then became World Champions. What factors would you say played a role in this turnaround?
AS: After the Olympics in London, we were both quite fed up with rowing and we therefore had a significant break from training. I started my master’s degree and lived more or less like a normal person. During this period, my motivation increased and I realised that I really love to train and compete. Getting Johan Flodin as a new coach had a big, positive effect and we started to really believe in what we were doing.
WR: What are some of the strongest memories you have of your 2013 World Championship final?
AS: The strongest one was after about 1100 meters when Kristoffer and I simultaneously made the decision of going for it, way earlier than planned. The split of a second it took to make that decision was probably the hardest part of the entire race. Crossing the finish line and seeing Norway on top of the scoreboard was also an unbelievable moment.
WR: World Rowing Cup II in Varese this year was a bit challenging for you. What happened and what did you do to help recover?
AS: Kristoffer was not feeling too good going into the regatta. He got worse through the weekend and was out of training for a week while I trained in the single. It is always hard to pull out of a regatta, but with the big picture in mind, it was definitely the right decision. Health comes first!
WR: What would you say are your main strengths? Weaknesses?
AS: I think one of my main strengths is my feel for the boat. When it comes to competition, I can usually lift my game some notches from training. Another strength is that I have the ability to see the whole picture in terms of training and making the decisions that are the smartest in the long run. Weaknesses? I have many things that I need to improve in order to become a better rower. If I should reveal two weaknesses, they are coffee and chocolate. The latter is obviously not a good one when rowing as a lightweight.
WR: What do you enjoy most/least enjoy about training?
AS: Relatively short distances with a free stroke rate are the most fun training sessions. Long distance training on the erg is probably my least favourite.
WR: In which sports do you cross-train?
AS: I really love running. Few things are better than going for a long run in the woods while listening to some good music and letting thoughts just drift away. The Watt Bike is also a great tool in addition to cycling outdoors. I also do a lot of cross-country skiing during the winter. Unfortunately, I bring shame on my fellow Norwegians with my bad skiing technique, but the training effect is great! Lifting weights is also something I enjoy.
WR: Who have been the most influential people in your rowing career?
AS: I have been lucky to have many good coaches from the moment I started rowing, and every single one has had some sort of positive influence on my rowing career and me. If I should mention one I would say that my first coach, Jone Jonassen. He was the one who made me fall in love with rowing and made me believe that I could reach as far as I wanted to.
WR: Do you and Kristoffer train full-time?
AS: We are lucky to have sufficient funding from both the Norwegian Olympic Committee and private sponsors, so that we can train full time if we want to. However, both of us like to have other things to do besides rowing. Kristoffer is a very skilled carpenter and I have studied business and economics for quite a few years.
WR: How do you manage to balance rowing with other responsibilities?
AS: I consider it very important to have other things to focus on besides rowing. I have been a full-time athlete a few times, but each time I have started to regret it after a while. The mental break you get when focusing on something else is extremely valuable. At the moment I am doing some freelance writing for a financial news website. That is very convenient to combine with rowing because I can work more in periods with less training and vice versa.
WR: Tell us a bit about your musical skills and that of your team.
AS: Both Nils (Jakob Hoff) and Kjetil (Borch) are excellent guitar players with Nils also being a great pianist and harp player. Kristoffer was a talented violinist a few years back and sometimes I think he is also pursuing a career as an opera singer, judging by the sound coming from the shower. My musical career started when I was seven years old playing the accordion before I came to my senses and started playing drums instead. I played drums in a punk rock band and we actually made a few songs. I seriously eyed the possibility of becoming a rock star. Then rowing caught my attention, a lifestyle that suits me a little better I think.
WR: If you could have dinner with any three people in the world, who would you invite?
AS: The Swedish real estate broker and TV-star, Fredrik Eklund (known from the TV-show, Million Dollar Listing New York). He moved from Sweden to the USA and built himself up from nothing to become the best broker in the whole of Manhattan. Another person I would choose is the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein. I am sure he has a lot of stories and insights about how the financial markets really work. The third person I would choose to invite is Warren Buffet.
WR: Any favourite foods?
AS: Avocados and mangos. They are two things I cannot live without - during the summer at least. Also other fruits such as apples and watermelons.
WR: How do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
AS: I see myself as a fast-paced financial journalist covering the global financial markets and maybe as a family man. If there is any time left during the day I will probably also be coaching some young and talented rowers, telling them how everything was more hard-core when I was an athlete ;-)