Jeremie Azou (b) and Frederic Dufour (s) of France compeate in the Lightweight Men's Double Sculls heat at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.
The Dutch women’s four are defending World Champions this year in Bled and are one of the crews that combines vast experience with young talent. World Rowing got an insight into the inner workings of the champion boat, speaking to Olympian Femke Dekker, under 23 women’s pair medalist Ellen Hogerwerf, and Wianka van Dorp, and Olivia van Rooyen.

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When asked how the crew got its unique mixture of young athletes and the experience Dekker, van Dorp told World Rowing: “Apart from Ellen we were part of the group of athletes involved in the selections for the eight. We did not make it, but we still have a chance next year to get back in and we can use the experience. For Ellen this year is a huge step into international rowing.”

These motivations were in stark contract with Dekkerwho chose to be in this crew because: “I like the challenge of defending my 2009 and 2010 world title, especially with this relatively inexperienced crew. We have only had a short time to prepare together. We haven’t done any racing together yet apart from the test race during camp.”  

The younger women know they are in good company rowing with Dekker. Hogerwerf believes: “I thought I could learn a lot from her. I knew of course she was the stroke of the eight and about her medals at the Word Championships and Olympics.”

Van Rooyen agreed, noting the difference to training with younger athletes. “It is different because Femke gives so much valuable feedback during the workouts that we all learn a lot about technique. Also, it is reassuring when she is telling us that the boat moves well. And when the boat is not, she knows instantly what should be changed, and that works!”

This invaluable feedback works both ways. Dekker believes: “I learn from them to approach rowing in a simple and open-minded way again and not to put too much attention on detail and endless perfectionism, but simply pull hard and have fun!”

For the German women’s quadruple sculls, age never played a part. Britta Oppelt, 33, will be rowing in the final with Stephanie Schiller, 25, Tina Manker, 22 and Julia Richter, 22. London 2012 will be Oppelt’s third Olympic Games and, despite a silver and a bronze, she is yet to add gold to her collection. The 33 year old is certainly not letting this faze her: “I am calmer now. I want it, but at the same time I know I have to be healthy and everything has to fall into place to make my dream come true.”

For Manker, this was not an intimidating boat to row in, despite Oppelt’s experience: “I reckon it can only be a positive thing to row with experienced athletes. And of course I see what I can learn. I am the younger one so I definitely like to learn and find what I can gain from rowing with a more experienced athlete. This can only help me progress.”

Can age sometimes cause issues? Does respect for youth and respect for experience ever clash?

Oppelt believes: “We are all equal in the boat and accept each other, everybody has their specific task, and everybody brings in certain qualities to the crew which helps us all. Of course I’m older and I have more experience, but for me it’s important that the younger ones say what they feel in the boat, before I say something. And it’s not about me saying, ‘this is how it is’. “

Could age affect the way the women train? Would the older members of the crew wish to do more cross training? At this question, the women laugh as Manker said: “Honestly, it’s more a wish for the younger ones to do a bit more off the water. Sometimes you can tell a difference when we do weights. The younger ones probably still need to do more strength training with weights, whereas the older ones do more endurance oriented weight training. But of course that also depends on the type of person you are.”

The French lightweight men’s double sculls is a fascinating boat this year. Jeremie Azou, 22, is the Under 23 World Champion whilst Frederic Dufour, 35, started his international career in 1994 and has since won many international medals including a silver Olympic medal. This is Dufour’s 13th World Rowing Championships and Azou is 13 years his junior.

When asked if there were style differences, Dufour stated: “We each have our own style but we complement each other.  I row because I want it.  I’m ‘a little’ over 30 and I will stop when I feel I don’t like it anymore. We are on the water to move the boat in best possible way.  We both prioritise effectiveness.”

Azou agreed, believing, “We both have our signature technique but we are able to tune our violins”.

This unique blend of youth and experience is not uncommon amongst rowing, as athletes can continue to compete at an age unheard of in other sports.

 

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