Video feature: Ebbesen at Indianapolis 1994
The greatest rowing moments are timeless. That’s why World Rowing has decided to dig deep into its vast archive of footage so that you can re-live some of the most thrilling races our sport has ever seen.
You will find the link to our video archive from here.
World Rowing has invited the contribution of its greatest athletes who were either in these races or felt inspired by them as young athletes, to add a unique perspective to each of our featured races.
Our first video feature takes us back almost 20 years. The year was 1994 and Denmark’s Eskild Ebbesen, now one of the world’s most successful ever oarsmen, sat on the start line of his third World Rowing Championships at Indianapolis (USA) in the lightweight men’s four. The lightweight four had not yet been raced at the Olympic Games but was on the programme for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and so now there was even more to race for as a lightweight rower.
World Rowing spoke with Ebbesen to re-live this race every step of the way. Here’s what he had to say. (We suggest you play the above video while reading Ebbesen's comments for full effect).
This was a long time ago. This was my third World Championships but we had won all of our races through the season – we had a very fast four – but this was of course the most meaningful race of the season, the most important race for us to be ready for and we were ready.
Feelings on the start line?
I would say I was quite nervous. (On the start line) you know you have a chance, you know you have the power and the possibility, but you still have to show it! Your thoughts have to be focused – to follow the strategy and do whatever we had talked about through the race.
At the first 250m – already pulling away from the field
It felt fantastic but that was not the first time we experienced that because we were very explosive off the start. Three of us had raced the year before at the World Rowing Championships where we got behind in the eight. After that we just shook hands and agreed that that would never happen again. So, we were very focused on getting away from the start and sitting on the race. By the 500m mark we had a good rhythm. It was just as we hoped.
It was like we were almost two lengths ahead of the field and the feeling just came so naturally. ‘What is happening?’, ‘Have we gone out too hard off the start?, ‘Why are they not following us’ – it almost felt too easy at this point in the race.
1,000m – Was there the temptation to get over-excited?
I think this was just our rowing style, to pull hard from the beginning. We just had this rhythm where it was easy to go fast. Then of course as the race goes on we would lose some speed and the field would become a little bit tighter, especially with the Australians in the last 1000m.
Who made the calls?
The calls came from Niels (Henriksen) in the bow. We had a mid-way turn where he would call “1,000m” and we just knew we had to keep the momentum of the race, keep the speed up because that’s when it starts to hurt. We wanted to keep the speed at this point, but we were still very focused on the rhythm and on the efficiency of our rowing to keep the balance in the very hard water. It was very difficult to row in these high waves, especially in the last 500m. With this tailwind we had to be quite technical.
Was there a main technical focus?
We had always been very focused on not having a stroke to follow but very focused on following each other. I think that’s been our most important focus throughout the years; that we feel each other and not just look at the stroke. And also not getting too excited, staying relaxed in our shoulders and in all those muscles we don’t use in rowing - they should be able to relax and I think that’s very important in rowing. If you start stressing it will just make you go slower.
1750m - What would you say to the 22-year-old Eskild in that boat?
“KEEP GOING!” because now it starts to hurt. It was so easy at the beginning but now it’s starting to hurt and the thoughts of “you can do it” may also be a risk factor because if you think “this is home, we can do it”, you might make mistakes – so stay in the race, keep on doing what you have done so many times. That would be the best advice – and don’t relax until you have passed the finish line!
Crossing the finish line
I remember it was so fantastic doing this for the first time – the feelings of daring to be able to it and actually doing it are so different.
Did this race make you want to really go for gold in Atlanta?
Actually, we did that already – months before this race. When we broke the World Best Time in May 1994 and beat the entire field of competitors at the World Rowing Cup - that gave us a good indication that this was a fast crew.
Was this race used as a reference for future races?
We had a year (1994) where everything was just developing. We were doing better and we were sometimes surprised at how well it went and how good we did during training and racing, and suddenly that became a reference.
So the year after it was quite hard because there were few times we had the same feeling – we got used to it because our racing was very good and very fast. The moment we didn’t go well it was like “oh this isn’t good enough!”
I think we had a hard time in 1995 and then we came back in 1996 and just accepted that you have to fight for every tenth of a second and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not as good as it was yesterday.