Marcel Hacker's new-found energy
Marcel Hacker has been around for a long time; he entered the international sculling scene in 1994 with a Junior World Champion title in the quadruple sculls. After a Junior title in the single in 1995 as well as a silver medal in the Under 23 single the following year, Hacker had his Senior debut winning two silver medals in 1997 and 1998 in the quad. This was followed by 10 years representing Germany in the single, includingthree Olympic Games from 2000 to 2008, an Olympic bronze in 2000 as well as the World Championships single title in 2002. After a seventh place at the Beijing Olympic Games, he moved back into the quad where he won bronze in Poznan in 2009.
In 2010 Hacker returned into the single, but only to race at the World Cup events. With a second place at the World Cup in Munich this year the now 34-year old had a successful return onto the World Rowing scene and talked to World Rowing about being a changed man and plans to go for his fourth Olympic Games in 2012.
Marcel, the World Rowing scene did not see much of you between last year’s World Cup in Munich and this year’s, as you did not row at the World Champs in New Zealand because of family reasons. Tell us what happened in your life over the last ten months?
You are right, a lot has happened and a lot has changed since last year. The biggest change has probably been that I have a family now. I live with my partner Katina and we became parents to Haakon Theodor on 27 November last year. And who would believe it, but after these World Championships I will also get married, two week-ends after the finals. It will be a full on wedding, including a christening.
My family and I live in the Harz now, which is a bit further from my rowing club in Frankfurt. But I’m gone so often with training camps, competitions etc that it does not really matter where I live as I can always cross train and do weights at home as well. Also, I can row in Magdeburg, which is closer and it’s the city where I’m originally from.
It’s just great for me to finally have a fixed home location. For me it’s a place to recover and to regenerate. I draw a lot of energy from being with my family and I enjoy every minute I’m there. When we have club training camps I also try to have the family with me wherever I can. But it’s a proper home which is important, something I did not have for a very long time.
Rumours have it you are a changed man? Is that true and are you also a different single sculler?
Yes, I guess so. I’m so much more relaxed these days. And much calmer as well. I think I have found myself somehow and I have a home now. Also, I have found a coach (Ralf Hollmann from Frankfurt) who has the necessary calmness to help me get to where I need to go and set the necessary calm environment. I’m probably a more stable person these days with a family who backs me up, who are there when I need them and who give me the strength and stability. When you don’t know where you belong, you are always on the run and missing that strength. I’ve found it now.
If you look around, I believe a lot of those older guys who have been successfully around for a long time, like e.g. Drew [Ginn] or Olaf [Tufte], they all have a stable private environment and I’m sure that makes them strong too. And ultimately that’s what makes us successful. Look at Synek, last year’s World Champion, he also became a dad during that time. Especially with the single scullers, I’m pretty sure the more stable the private background is the stronger they are. They always have a home they can return to and where they can just be human and don’t just have to function, as we maybe do it here in racing. To race fast, you need your energy sources as well and a stable home can give you that. Family is my energy pool.
What was your motivation to give it another go in the single?
Of course I still want to attack. I have been at Olympic Games three times. I won the bronze medal once and the other two were not what I wanted to achieve. So of course, I would still like to win gold. And that’s what I plan to do next year – go for Olympic gold. We also have the full backing of the Federation in this. This backing is also shown in the fact that they let me race here. With my back surgery they could have sent somebody else in order to secure the qualification. But I’m here now.
The single was the most motivating option for me. I’m quite a bit older than the guys in the quad now. In 2009 the quad was alright, but there are also age differences which don’t only make it easy. In the future, we’ll see, but at the moment the single is the right boat for me. There are great guys in the squad and they continue to gain experience too.
I definitely plan to continue for a while. I’m very luck also that my employer Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) have released me to be able to train full time until the 2012 Olympic Games. That’s the best support and best kind of sponsorship you can hope for and they’ve provided this support over the last 12 years, since 2000. Apart from that I get funding from the federal state and national sport aid, which all helps a lot. I think these days and compared to some years ago, rowers can’t complain about the support they get.
And if 2012 goes well, 2016 might still be of interest too. There are others who have rowed Olympic Games at the age of 39. Maybe it would not need to be the single until 2016, but maybe the quad. We’ll see. If my body holds up and the financial support continues, I would like to stay involved.
Either way I definitely plan to stay involved in rowing and have also started coaching education and got my first coaching certificates. After 2012 I also want to focus on that.
In addition, these days I “can” row and don’t “have to row”. In the past it often felt like that. I’ve got the support of my family, of my employer to do this and it’s my choice to do it.
In Lucerne you didn’t finish the regatta because of medical reasons. You just had surgery to your back, how have you recovered from this?
Isn’t that what all of the top scullers have had already? Yes, I had back surgery on the Wednesday after Lucerne because of a slipped disk (shows his scar on the back), thus only six weeks ago. I was back in the boat one week after surgery, but also had a great team of sport therapists and physios around me over the last five weeks during the training camp helping me. It’s great to be back racing, but of course the goals here have changed. Olympic qualification is the main aim. Originally, the aim was a medal, but we had to adjust this goal a bit.
Of course, it wasn’t made easy for me. I first had to win the internal relation races against Mathias Rocher and Hubert Trzybinski. But that was important for me too. I had to make sure that I was actually able to race. We played around with some neuronal control stuff in some of my rehab outings to overcome the inhibitions in my head after the surgery and it works and I got the start speed back. Either it holds up or it doesn’t and luckily it all seems to be holding up.
Of course some of the doctors think I’m crazy, but I just had to give it a try and didn’t want to blame myself for not having tried. So far my races have been ok, but of course they were not semis or finals yet.
You always had a certain reputation of being rather eccentric on and off the water, is that still the case?
Well, as I said I guess I have really changed. I don’t think you will see any of those episodes from the past anymore. But actually I think the whole single scullers scene has become calmer. At least in the top 1-9, everybody is much calmer. Most of them are settled in their families and all but Mahe also have kids these days. On the water of course, the battle is still fierce as ever.