Five-time Olympian Marcel Hacker retires
One of the outstanding scullers in the world, German rower and five-time Olympian Marcel Hacker has called time on his international rowing career.
After a career spanning 25 years, including 22 years on the German National Rowing Team, the 39-year old announced his retirement to sponsors and media and in the presence of his family at a welcome home reception at his rowing club SC Magdeburg at the end of August.
Having spent more than half of his life as an elite athlete, it was an emotional moment and Hacker’s farewell speech came with tears as he described his feelings: “Of course there is a nostalgic feeling coming with this, because I had an awesome time. I would have not wanted to miss any second. Every mistake got me further in my development. It’s time for a generation change and I also feel a big relief to now be able to start a new chapter in my life.”
The announcement came on the day Hacker arrived back from his fifth Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he had finished eighth in the men’s double sculls together with partner Stephan Krueger. While he would have liked to finish off his career with a medal, Hacker felt at ease: “I know where I stand with myself and I am proud of my achievements over the last 25 years.”
And the list of achievements is long. The Sydney 2000 Olympic bronze medallist, 2002 World Champion and former World Best Time holder in the men's single sculls, took up rowing in 1991 at the age of 14. He first represented Germany at the 1994 World Rowing Junior Championships, where he took home his first world title and over the next five years, he won a medal at every World Rowing event he competed in. More medals followed after the Sydney Olympics, bringing his overall career tally to two Junior World Championship gold medals, one U23 World Championship silver, a Senior World Championship gold (2002 M1x), four Senior World Championship silver and three bronze medals.
Best known for single sculling, steadfastness, distinctiveness, Hacker was a colourful character on the international regatta scene, known for often carrying his heart on his sleeve and being a bit of a rebel in German rowing.
The trained maintenance technician at Deutsche Bahn (German Railway), started his career in the men’s quadruple sculls then left the Magdeburg training group in 2000 to follow his single sculls dreams. He joined forces with Andreas Maul and they set up camp at the Munich Regatta course shut themselves away from other rowers and did their own thing for nearly eight years. “I enjoyed the time, even though I missed my home,” Hacker says.
During this time, Hacker had his biggest success in the single sculls, including the bronze medal win at his first Olympic Games in Sydney 2000, which he names as the highlight of his career. Hacker remained unbeaten over a series of 41 races between 2001 and the 2003 World Championship final.
Over many years Hacker gained a reputation. He shaved his head and for a while he openly displayed his bare, muscular upper-body, so “everyone could see his engine room”. German media was fascinated, with “The Spiegel” describing him as the “volcano on the water” and the “Tagespiegel” calling him a “respectable macho”, noting that “Marcel Hacker likes to present himself as loud-mouth – a role that services him for self-protection.”
Hacker also experienced disappointments, including a seventh place at both Olympic Games in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. “In Athens I, for the first time felt the pressure,” Hacker says about this time. This was followed by his father’s death two weeks before Beijing which, he describes as his personal low point.
At the age of 31, Hacker split from Maul, worked with a psychologist in Munich and met Katina, who first became his mental coach, then his wife. They became parents to son Haakon and within three years, Hacker had changed his life around. “My son, my family – that is the biggest success of my life. I can’t thank them enough for all their support and I can’t wait to spend more time with them,” he says.
For now, five-year old Haakon will not follow the footsteps of his father, announcing he will remain a handball player in their home in Blankenburg, a town in Saxony-Anhalt. “The main thing is that he is happy with this,” Hacker says.
Hacker was happy when he announced his retirement. He recently finished his National Coaching Certification and is planning to move into coaching next and to share his learning and experiences with the up-and-coming rowing generation. “I want to share my experiences and I will try to pass on my ambition to the athletes. I want to develop further as a person and a coach and I’m looking forward to what the future will bring.”
His advice for up and coming rowers in typical Hacker style: “Never lose your courage. Dirt can be sweet. If you fall down, get up, straighten, your hat and carry on.”