Queen of the single: Ekaterina Karsten
Ekaterina Karsten, born Ekaterina Khodotovich, is a true rowing legend. In Belarus, her successes have made her a national hero. Her gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games was the first gold medal for the newly independent state and she also received the highest order of honour in Belarus. In total she is the proud owner of five Olympic medals, two golds (1996 & 2000), a silver in 2004 (by only one tenth of a second), two bronzes in (1992 & 2008) as well as six World Championship titles. But don’t ask how many wins she has overall, she stopped counting…
Ekaterina, known as Katia, took a break from rowing in 1998 to marry and give birth to her daughter Alexandra in May. Not for long however, as in December 1998 she returned to training and in 1999 she won another World Championship in single sculls and set a world-best time.
World Rowing had a chat with a quite relaxed Katia at the World Championships in Bled.
WR: As an athlete who has been competing for a long time how have you adapted your training?
EK: The most significant change has been my coach. I’ve had Norbert Laderman for the past 6 years now and he changed my training—he’s been more careful with the training and has created a plan that has allowed me to have a long career and to stay healthy.
WR: where do you find all that energy?
EK: I am very lucky because since I started in 1987, this is always what I wanted to do. My hobby became my job. I must say I don’t feel my age. Others are astonished, I’m not. Not long ago I was training with U23 athletes and they couldn’t believe I’ll turn 40 next year. I had to laugh when some journalists ask Frida Svensson or Mirka Knapkova what they were doing when I won my first Olympic medal in 1996. And another Olympic gold medal is a dream, I train therefore.
WR: Are you well known, do people recognize you?
EK: Back in 2004, a bank had shown my photo and my Olympic medal and people recognized me at that time, but now, in the German village where I live, I have a calmer time.
WR: who is Katia, when she’s not an athlete?
EK: I’m a calm person who doesn’t like problems. I am a mother and a spouse. I’ve always loved kids and wanted one; I was therefore so happy to give birth to Alexandra. It’s also very nice that Belarus enables us to live as a family. When Alexandra did not have to go to school, she would travel everywhere with us. Now she goes to school so she cannot anymore but during training times, we are together.
WR: What is a typical training day?
EK: The alarm goes off at 6.30 to take the first heart rate count of the day. I then wake Alexandra up at 7.00 to prepare her for school and we have breakfast. Afterwards, I’m off to my first training. The session itself would be about one or one and a half hours but it takes 20 minutes to get there, to change, warm up, take a shower afterwards, go back to home, so that it takes all morning. I’ll have dinner and sleep a bit before heading to the next training session of the day. Afterwards I have a massage before taking care of Alexandra’s work for school, cooking for the family (when my husband doesn’t feel like it). I go to bed around 23.30.
WR: Lucerne was difficult for you this year. Did you have any health problems?
EK: No but there were some problems with training. My sparring partners and doctor could not get visas and the financial crises that hit Belarus did not make it easier.
WR: In the United States you are known as “The Cat” because she stalks her prey and then pounces on them.
EK: This sounds more like a panther than a cat. (laughing).
WR: In the 1990’s you would often lead from the start, recently you look to be more patient, and then you pounce. How do you time know the right time to go?
EK: I try to mix it up. Sometimes I start faster, but I like to do each race differently so that the opponents don’t really know what to expect.
WR: Do you have to use more strategy now than when you were younger?
EK: In the early years I just worked to win. Now I have more experience so I have a little better control.
WR: Is there any chance your career could overlap with your daughter Alexandra’s?
Wilfred (husband): I will answer this question. A long time ago I told her she has to stop when Alexandra is winning. (Alexandra is now 13 and this year wants to start rowing).
WR: How many Olympics do you want to go for?
EK: 100% London. If no health problems, then probably Rio, and then I will think about it.
WR: How is your health now?
EK: I feel young.
WR: What are the most important things to focus on as you go through this week?
EK: I am concentrating on the day of the final.
WR: How much do you pay attention to the opponents and who else looks good here?
EK: Over the year you see the same people and surely you look for everybody. This year will be more difficult to win than last year as everyone is preparing to qualify for the Olympics.