Athlete of the Month - May 2013
In the world of rowing Chantal Achterberg of the Netherlands is not the most statuesque. At 172cm she has been mistaken for the coxswain more than once. This, however, has not stopped Chantal taking her rowing from university crews to the very elite level – the Olympic Games. At the London Olympics Chantal was part of the women’s eight that took the only Olympic medal in rowing for the Netherlands. Sitting in three-seat, aged 27 years old, Chantal became an Olympic bronze medallist.
World Rowing: Where are you at present?
Chantal Achterberg: At the moment I am in Amsterdam. This is where I live, train and study.
WR: Are you training for the coming season?
CA: Yes, I am a full-time athlete, although I try to do master's study at the same time. After rowing in the eight last year I wanted to row a smaller boat this year. That turned out to be the double with Claudia Belderbos, a teammate from the eight. We have the same build and at previous Dutch Championships we both had good results in the single, so it seemed logical to try the double!
We approached Nico Rienks (he won Olympic gold and bronze in the double in 1988 and 1992 and gold in the eight in 1996) to give us some advice. He was actually quite enthusiastic and decided that he wanted to be involved in our project so he became our coach.
WR: What does your average day look like?
CA: I think my average day looks like every rower’s day. In the morning I cycle to the Bosbaan (rowing course) for the first session. Then I go to the university or just hang around at the Olympic Training Centre next to the Bosbaan and wait until it is time for the second session. I am a huge fan of naps in between, but even a bigger fan of eating! That is why I probably like rowing a lot; because rowing, sleeping and eating are the main activities on a day.
WR: How did you get into rowing and what did you think of it at first? Are there any other sporty people in your family?
CA: I used to swim when I was younger. I even won some Dutch championships when I was still a junior. I was still swimming when I started studying (at university). After a year I came to the conclusion that training, living and studying in three different cities wasn’t the ideal combination. I decided to stop swimming and I moved to Delft. As I am really addicted to sport, I wanted to find a different sport that I could do. I had heard that with rowing you can start with six sessions a week in your first year, so I decided that I wanted to row.
My family does not like sports as much as I do. My mother and sister both intend to do sport once a week, but most of the time they call me to say that they did not go because of work, social appointments, etc. However, one brother of my grandfather was still running marathons at age 80,o there must be some sporting genes around in my family.
WR: Tell us about the first time you sat on a rowing machine.
CA: I cannot remember my first workout on the rowing machine. I do remember thinking how boring rowing, and especially the rowing machine was. With swimming you have different styles you can swim and you could vary these styles and distances endlessly. Rowing is just one movement that you have to repeat over and over again. Luckily, I also came to see all the positive aspects of this great sport!
WR: Was there any event that led you to decide to take the sport to elite level?
CA: After the World Rowing Championships in Poznan, in 2009, I decided that this really was the thing I wanted to do. I moved to Amsterdam and fully dedicated my life to rowing. I also started a second master’s degree to have something besides rowing.
WR: What were your impressions of your first time on the Dutch national team when you rowed at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in 2007?
CA: I actually quite enjoyed the atmosphere at the championships. The presence of all these different nations and the kindness of rowers amongst each other made quite an impression.
It also made me see that I am actually not that tall for a rower (I am 1.72m). In my family I am almost the tallest person and all my life I have never thought of myself as small. In the world of rowing however, I am just not very tall.
I have had some quite embarrassing moments with people who thought that I was the cox of the eight. One moment that I will never forget was at the 2011 World Championships in Bled. We had already put the boat on the water for the finals and I was totally focused and quite nervous. Apparently, some of the traffic rules changed, so an official came to me and said: “Ok cox, listen up! When you go on the water…” It did take away some of the tension!
World Rowing: When did you realise that rowing at the Olympic Games may be a possibility for you?
Chantal Achterberg: Early on in my rowing years, the Olympics were just a dream;something very far away that was not for me. Over the years (especially after 2009), it became a more and more realistic goal. The year before London I got six study points in total (of 60 you can get in one year) and I really think I neglected my friends and family because being selected for London was just the only thing I could think about.
WR: What was it like lining up at the start of your first race at Eton Dorney for the London Olympics?
CA: I was so excited about being at the Olympics and impressed by the amount of spectators that I was thinking about a lot of things at the start, most of them not relevant to that moment. As a result, the first race was not good at all. Luckily, I managed to be much more focused for the other races.
WR: You mentioned that you were working on your masters (when you had time). What are you studying?
CA: I have a master’s degree in Life Science & Technology. This is a study that focuses on the living cell. Although this is very interesting, I missed the interaction with people. That is why I started a master’s in Human Movement Science.
WR: Two-time Olympic Champion Nico Rienks is your coach. Are you the first crew he has coached seriously?
CA: We are indeed the first crew he is coaching seriously.
WR: Nico was known to push himself very hard as an athlete, how would you describe him as a coach?
CA: He is very enthusiastic and I think he hardly ever stops thinking about our rowing. He doesn’t want to miss a metre when we are rowing; he just runs back to his bicycle when we have stopped to talk a bit. He is willing to learn from other coaches and that helps him to become a better coach each day.
WR: You mentioned that your family was not very involved in sport, how do they explain to other people what you are doing?
CA: They are actually getting the hang of it more and more. They even know the difference between sweep and sculling now, so I think they are quite able to describe rowing to other people. I think my mother is a little too proud sometimes; if she gets the chance she talks about my rowing to random people in the supermarket.
WR: You started off as a swimmer. How do you think swimming has worked to your advantage when you changed to rowing?
CA: I used to swim at 5.30 in the morning. I think it taught me to live a disciplined life. Furthermore, because of the swimming I was relatively strong when I started rowing. This has definitely worked to my advantage because I don’t think I really could make an impression with my technique.
WR: You mentioned that you like eating. Do you have a favourite dish?
CA: I don’t think I have one favorite dish. I am addicted to yoghurt and pasta. When I think it is too early to wake in the morning, I just think about the yoghurt I can eat again and then I jump out of bed!
WR: What is your favourite rowing venue in the world?
CA: I love Lucerne (Switzerland). It is, of course, beautiful to row on the course. I am already looking forward to hearing the cowbells again. And because we're in Lucerne every year, it really feels like coming home when we check in at the hotel.
But I like to travel, so I actually like rowing on different courses during the year. I really have great memories of rowing in New Zealand. I really enjoyed rowing on Lake Karapiro, but the great nature, nice people and holiday afterwards also helped making it an unforgettable time.
WR: What do you enjoy doing outside of rowing?
CA: As I mentioned before, I might be a little bit addicted to sport. So I like to do other sports outside of rowing and to try a new sport every now and then. Last year I tried underwater hockey. It is quite fun to do and I really think it is good for your lung capacity as well.
WR: What is your current rowing goal?
CA: Going to Rio is definitely my new dream.