Seoul mates return to Korea – 25 years later
This time 25 years ago the eyes of the sporting world were firmly focused on Seoul, Korea for the 1988 Olympic Games.
For rowing the spotlight was on the Han River regatta course. 25 years later international rowing has returned to Korea. This time the focus is the Tanguem International Rowing Regatta venue in Chungju for the 2013 World Rowing Championships.
Many years may have past but some of these rowers and coaches have returned to Korea with one thing in common – the sport they love.
At Seoul Ralf Holtmeyer was a 32-year-old coach of the West German men’s eight. They won gold. This is Holtmeyer’s first time back in Korea since the Seoul Olympics and he says returning is quite a different experience as this is a World Championship rather than the Olympic Games. In Chungju Holtmeyer is again coaching the eight.
Holtmeyer remembers a brand new course. “The conditions were really good. The races were fair, the water was flat and it was not too hot,” he recalls.
Unbeaten throughout the season the crew’s expectations were to win. “The Russian crew won the first heat but our time was better. Our strength was the third 500 metres and Bahne Rabe, the stroke, was outstandingly strong.”
The crew remains in contact and has met several times since Seoul. “This year, for the 25 years anniversary, another reunion is planned. The rowers have been in touch all the years – apart from Bahne Rabe who has already passed away.”
Juliet Hochman (nee Thompson) was the youngest member of the United States women’s eight. As a 20-year-old she remembers Seoul through young eyes. Hochman had used visualisation of the Olympic opening ceremony as her motivation for the previous two years. “It helped me to get through the next day of training,” says Hochman, “and when I walked in it was exactly as I’d pictured it. I’ll never forget it.”
The night before Hochman’s final, where they finished sixth, her sister went into a Seoul hospital for an emergency operation so Hochman says her second week was mornings at the hospital and evenings partying.
Coming to Chungju was Hochman’s first time back in Korea, this time as an observer for the organising committee of the 2014 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. “I didn’t think about it too much before I got here,” says Hochman, “but once I was here the memories started to happen – the smells, so much signage…”
Hochman rowed for another year on her university team but since 1989 she has not picked up an oar until moving to Amsterdam a year ago. “It’s struck me more than once that rowing is a gift that keeps on giving. At the age of 46 I can restart a sport.”
Giuseppe Di Capua is a name synonymous with Italian rowing. As the coxswain for the Abbagnale brothers Carmine and Giuseppe, Di Capua has a gold medal from the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Di Capua started coxing internationally in 1972 and continued through until 1996. He then left the sport focusing instead on his family business, cookie making. Known affectionately as O’Biscottaro, Di Capua returned to rowing this year, coxing the LTA mixed coxed four to these World Rowing Championships.
Describing the return to Korea Di Capua says, “The Olympics is always a different animal (compared to the World Rowing Championships). It was one of the best regattas that I’ve rowed at, not only for organisation but for atmosphere. This event here is also well organised.”
Di Capua says he has had some flashback memories, but he adds that 25 years was a long time ago. “I had more hair then and it was a different colour.”
Now with the Para-rowing four, Di Capua says he treats them the same way as he treated the Abbagnale’s. “I wasn’t in the boat for 17 years, but once I was back it felt like I’d never quit,” says Di Capua. “It was like it was yesterday.”
Di Capua’s Para-rowing four won the silver medal on Wednesday and after the race he said, “"I haven’t counted my medals, but this one is the most important one, it has been 20 years since my last medal, which was also a silver."