Athlete of the Month - March 2010
The unstoppable Jueri Jaanson took time out from training in Croatia to talk about what he is doing presently as he heads into his third decade of rowing. A hero in Estonia and admired by generations of rowers, Jueri talks about who has made his training ‘hell’ and his proudest achievement. For Jueri’s never-ending tenacity and for being a living legend, Jueri is World Rowing’s celebrated March Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: Where are you at present?
Jueri Jaanson: I am in Skradin, Croatia, now. I discovered this wonderful place in the spring of 1999 thanks to Iztok ?op. Today most Estonian rowers spend time there for early spring rowing.
World Rowing: Are you currently rowing training?
JJ: Yes, I do rowing trainings here. Because this is the first week on the water after winter break, we take it easy. At 6.30am we go walking with sticks in the hills or jogging together with my dog for 30-40 minutes and stretching. Then we have breakfast. After that it’s rowing for about 90 to 120 minutes. Some running, cycling and/or weights with stretching in the evening.
WR: With your wife a coach and your own involvement in rowing, is there any time that you get away from the rowing world?
JJ: Yes, sometimes we take time off from rowing, but it is quite difficult. Usually we go for holiday to some interesting place with whole family. Our last very nice holiday was in the fall of 2008, when we spent 11 days in Oman. It’s entirely a different world.
WR: I understand you have two daughters. Are they involved in rowing?
JJ: They are 15 and nine. Anita, the older one, already has been involved in rowing for three years. Now she is away from rowing discovering other worlds for herself, but two weeks ago she said to me that she wants to start again rowing trainings because she likes it.
WR: I understand that you are very well known in Estonia. How do people react when they see you?
JJ: Estonia is a small society and fortunately Estonians are calm and steady, so even if most of them know me, they do not have any special reactions. Some pupils and young people ask for my autograph. But, of course, after the successful Olympic Games or other big races there are many big celebrations. People love sport heroes.
WR: What is the most famous name you have in your mobile phone?
JJ: In the rowing field it is probably Olaf Tufte. From other fields, it should be Jaan Talts, Estonian weightlifter, Olympic Champion 1972.
WR: So far in your rowing career what award or medal are you most proud of?
JJ: Estonian Man of the year (2004) – this is more than sport only.
WR: Which do you like better, racing or training?
JJ: I like them both. Training because it makes me better and gives me good spirits and feeling. Racing – they are challenges for me. Well completed challenges give me good spirits, too.
WR: In your rowing career what is the longest you’ve ever not rowed for?
JJ: I think it is something like four or five months. This was the usual winter break when it was not possible to row in Estonia and I stayed at home all winter time.
WR: What is the craziest training session that a coach has told you to do?
JJ: There are probably a lot of crazy training sessions I have completed, but in my philosophy we are rowers and we make training crazy or not. Even seemingly easy training can be crazy thanks to yourself or your training partners. In my rowing life, I had three lightweight training partners – Roman Lutoškin (EST) in the eighties and nineties, Sam Lynch (IRL) at the end of nineties and Tim Larson (USA) before Athens. These “crazy” partners made some of my training sessions so difficult, that I felt myself burning endlessly in hell. Now, when I do my training, mostly alone or with younger teammates, my life is much easier. But, I miss trainings with them.
WR: In all of your years rowing where in the world is the strangest place you have gone to for training?
JJ: It is now a little bit strange to know I have been training in such places as Chechnya or Azerbaijan. I can’t imagine how these training places are there after wars. In Azerbaijan, as I have heard, they are building up a new training centre. Last year I visited my old coach in China and spent a month training in south-west China, near the Himalayas. There probably was no fork and knife for food for 200km – but the best foot and head massage that I have ever had.
WR: Is there any rower (or other athlete) that you admire?
JJ: I admire excellently completed challenges. I admire athletes who have made it. I admire intelligent people. In rowing I admire and I am very thankful to my former international coaches Thor Nilsen (the best of Thor: “You can rest at my age!”) and Igor Grinko (the best of Igor: “No pain, no gain! Do more!”).
WR: Do your teammates have a nickname for you?
JJ: You will have to ask them. For me they shout Jüri or internationally Juri.
World Rowing: Are you still in Skradin (Croatia)?
Jueri Jaanson: Yes, I am still in Skradin.
WR: What are your international race plans for this year?
JJ: My first intention is to race in the World Cup races, but before I will do my own tests and depending on the results will start in the Estonian trials at the beginning of May. Then we will see - which boat and when.
WR: How do you go about planning your racing schedule?
JJ: Depending on our trials we will put together the boats for the first World Cup race.
WR: You have been coached by some of the best coaches in the world, what are the most memorable pearls of wisdom that they have said to you?
JJ: The main thing which joins them is fanaticism. Working with them was hard, but enjoyable. I think the most important is not what they say, but what they do for you – and they did a lot.
WR: I understand you have hearing loss. How do you manage the start and finishes of a race?
JJ: I lost most of my hearing when I was about two or three years old. Now there are light signals at the start of races and therefore I do not have big problems any more. I am not able to understand speech over distance and through the loudspeakers, so earlier I started observing the flag or competitors.
WR: How do you think your body has changed over the years in terms of ability to handle the training load?
JJ: I think my body has kept fit thanks to the training over the years.
WR: What is your best 2000m ergo time?
JJ: It’s 5.47. I did it in spring 2004. Earlier, in the nineties, we did 2500m tests.
WR: Do you think there has been a time period when you were physically at your strongest (or is the best to come)?
JJ: I think physically I was strongest in the middle of the nineties. But there are also things I was able to do better later, when I was nearly 40.
WR: Where can you be found before a race?
JJ: Before a race I am usually near my boat. After a land warm up and before going on the water to warm up, about 30-40 minutes before start, I usually read staying in any shady place – this switches me off from the racing area.
WR: And, I have to ask, are you aiming for London 2012?
JJ: About London 2012, good question! We will see...