Accolades for Ebbesen with Thomas Keller Medal
Once a year rowing gets the opportunity to honour the best of the best. The Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland is the customary regatta during which the Thomas Keller Medal is presented.
Eskild Ebbesen of Denmark became the 27th recipient of the Thomas Keller Medal. He is the first Danish and only the third lightweight rower to receive this accolade.
Ebbesen commented: "Thank you very much for this medal. I guess this is the first real gold medal I have received. That is because an Olympic gold medal is actually silver that is covered with a little bit of gold. But this medal is 18 karat gold."
Ebbesen returned to the Rotsee regatta course in Lucerne, a course he knew well having raced there ever since the World Cup series began in 1997. "It is very special for me to be back in Lucerne again," said Ebbesen. "I competed here 16 times." In 1997, Ebbesen was part of the lightweight men’s four winning crew. Two years later his crew set the World Best Time at Lucerne. This 1999 time of 5:45.60 remains today as the fastest ever recorded and, at the time, it was faster than the open-weight World Best Time in the equivalent event.
One year on from his final international race, the London Olympic Games and dressed in a suit ready to receive his award, Ebbesen still retained the look of lightweight rower, his cheekbones prominent and his face tanned.
It is easy to see why Ebbesen was selected for the Thomas Keller Medal, rowing’s most prestigious award for an outstanding career in the sport. Not only is Ebbesen a legend amongst rowers, he is the most successful Danish Olympian of all time. With five Olympic Games in his career, Ebbesen has collected three golds and two bronze Olympic medals as well as six World Championship titles in his two-decade reign of the lightweight men’s four.
The most successful lightweight rower in the world, Ebbesen is only the third lightweight to be chosen as the Thomas Keller Medal recipient. In 1996 Italy's Francesco Esposito received the award and sometime lightweight, Peter Antonie of Australia received the award in 2003.
Part of the mark of a great athlete is the ability to rebound after disappointing results. Ebbesen successfully endured this during his career. From gold at the 1996 Olympic Games through to 1999, Ebbesen and his crew never lost a race. However, following a change of crew member due to injury prior to the Sydney Olympic final, the crew finished with bronze.
After that Ebbesen’s crew recorded mixed results, many of them gold, but rarely did his crew finish outside of the medals. Ebbesen noted that the standard in the lightweight four has continued to rise since it was first made an Olympic event in 1996 and the Dane says he relished the process of fighting back after a loss.
For much of Ebbesen’s career he was coached by the legendary Danish lightweight coach Bent Jensen. Jensen established the modus operandi of remaining at a high stroke rate throughout the 2000m race with the Danes becoming known for their high stroke rate. Ebbesen, from his favoured stroke seat commented, “I don’t think we have many strokes under 40.”
Jensen then moved to Canada with Bent Fransson taking over in Jensen’s place. Fransson described Ebbesen’s power and his boat feel as big factors in Ebbesen’s rowing success.
The Olympics was a huge part of Ebbesen’s rowing career and in 2005 he received the International Olympic Committee Trophy. Twice Ebbesen retired and twice he came back to successfully compete at the Olympics.
"I heard that one of the things you should do to receive this medal is also to retire," commented Ebbesen during his Thomas Keller Medal acceptance speech. "It is a pretty good joke in Denmark whether I will start rowing again for 2016. I am telling people I will not start again - I am definitely almost sure about that!"
Ebbesen went on to explain how winning medals was a big thing during his rowing career, but that the biggest thing, actually, "was the process of being part of a team, wanting to go for the goal and being in that process of optimising, getting things better and motivating each other."
Thanking his teammates, whom he says he learned a lot from during the years, Ebbesen also thanked his wife and children, stating that "having an elite rower back home with three kids is not funny I can tell you, and accepting a map on the couch is not easy. And so I am very thankful to my wife too."