A cross-continental affair at the YOG
Rowers have gathered from around the world at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. They speak different languages, come from different backgrounds and will go on to a multitude of different careers. But they have all, in varying ways, found the sport of rowing. Here is an inside look into their lives.
Alejandra Alonso, Paraguay
Alejandra Alonso comes from a rowing family. Her father, uncle and cousins all row and introduced her to the sport three years ago. Alonso participated in other sports such as basketball and football before rowing, but something about the sport captured her interest. “I don’t know what it is,” she says, “but I feel so good in the boat.”
Alonso trains with the rest of the national team in Paraguay, but for her age group, there are not many that compete at her level. Her family, says Alonso, has provided her with incredible support and always follows her racing. “Being here at YOG is amazing. There are so many different activities to participate in here and it is such an inspiration to see everyone.” Alonso has accomplished a great feat for her country by qualifying for the A-final. She recognises that this may not be possible for her country at the senior level, but the Youth Olympic Games provides a wonderful opportunity for developing rowing countries.
Alsonso will continue to train in rowing with the aim or competing in Rio or Tokyo Olympic Games. After finishing secondary school, she hopes to continue to university and do to a degree in sports science.
Caileigh Filmer, Canada
Caileigh Filmer used to compete as a competitive open-water swimmer. After stopping in 2009, she decided to try another sport. “There are some big similarities between my swimming training and my rowing training, but I really like that in rowing, when you put in the time and the work, it pays off. The passion really shows through,” she says.
Filmer has had a whirlwind of a summer. Finishing high school a month early, she embarked on a seven week training camp to prepare for the World Rowing Junior Championships. After a second place finish at the junior championships in the women’s pair, Filmer and her partner flew to Nanjing. “It is so cool to be at a multisport event and to see all the other sports and athletes,” Filmer says. But the change to the 1000m distance has been a challenge for her. “Short distances are not my strength, so it has been a challenge to stay in the mindset after the World Rowing Junior Championships,” she says.
After the Games, Filmer will fly back to Canada for only four hours before she leaves to attend university at the University of California Berkeley in California, United States.
Thomas Schramko, Australia
Thomas Schramko towers over the field, standing 203cm tall. He was recruited to row at his local club after his sister started rowing. “I like that you use all of your body in rowing; it takes power, strength, endurance and fitness,” he says. After winning the junior selection regatta in Australia, Schramko was able to decide which boat he wanted to compete in.
“I like the single because I am the one who can make the changes, there are less variables and it is a huge individual challenge.” Schramko is used to competing over the 2000m distance and had to make some adjustments to the rigging of his boat at the Youth Olympic Games. “I had to change my rigging so that I could get the (stroke) rate up better. I am basically rating at my ‘sprint rate’ throughout the entire race,” he explains. Schramko has two more years of high school and hopes to continue rowing to the under-23 level and beyond.
Vid Pugelj, Slovenia
Vid Pugelj has been rowing for almost ten years. He started in 2005 with his older brother and spent three years in the single because he was the only one in his age group. Happy to be in a team boat, Pugelj says, “I like that rowing is a team sport, but not like any other team sport. You have to push yourself in the boat, you can’t be an individual, you have to be dependable.”
Pugelj recently competed at the World Rowing Junior Championships in the men's quadruple sculls, but he has switched into the men’s pair for the YOG. The change from sculling to sweeping is always complicated, but throw in the fact that he and his pair partner only had about ten practices together and that they are now racing over a 1000m distance, it has added extra challenges. “Being at YOG is such a unique experience. Because the course is only 1000m, it makes it different. Every mistake counts, you really want to have a perfect race.”
Pugelj will go on to study physics or engineering at university. This year he was part of a school project that designed a submarine that could go 1km under the water. It was launched on 1 August, when he was competing at the World Rowing Junior Championships.
Nour El Houda Ettaieb, Tunisia
Nour El Houda Ettaieb and her twin brother, Mohamed Taieb are both competing at the Youth Olympic Games. They began rowing together after their father helped them to find the sport. “Everything about rowing is different. The water, the boat, the racing, it is all incredible,” Ettaieb says. Coming to the YOG through the African Qualification regatta, Ettaieb is surprised by the organisation and the quality of the event. “Here everything is so good. The athletes, all the people, it’s amazing.”
Ettaieb and her brother commute 40 minutes to train with the other national team rowers in Tunisia. They train nine to ten times per week and Ettaieb has one focus. “My goal is always to be a champion. I want to be on the podium. Even if I fail, I have something inside of me that tells me to keep going.”
Daniela du Toit, Zimbabwe
Daniela du Toit first began rowing in 2009 when her school hosted an open day for rowing. Deciding to give it a try she, “got stuck” and has been at the top of her age group for the past year and a half. Before coming to rowing, du Toit competed at the international level in BMX biking. “The main difference is that you get injured very easily, one fall and you can break yourself and it is a sprint sport, less than one minute. The determination to perform and training discipline carries over to rowing,” she says.
Coming to Nanjing has been a great experience for the young athlete who says, “There is an incredible spirit here and if feels so special.” Du Toit will finish her final exams in November and hopes to study sport science at university. Rowing is in her future and she hopes to help continue to grow the sport in her country. “In Zimbabwe not very many people know about rowing. They think of canoeing, because we have the Zambezi River. But there is definitely a growth in numbers."