Denis Oswald (l) and Jean-Christophe Rolland (r) at 2013 FISA Ordinary Congress.

Rolland was elected at the 2013 Ordinary Congress in Chungju, Korea to succeed Denis Oswald, who will leave his position next July after 24 years.

Between now and July Rolland will shadow Oswald in his duties as president as Rolland prepares to step up into the role. Rolland talked to World Rowing from his new address in Lausanne, Switzerland about his background in rowing, his Olympic gold medal race and lining up his life in preparation for being president.

World Rowing: Tell us how you first discovered rowing.
Jean-Christophe Rolland: I first started in 1981. I was 13 years old. My brother's friend started rowing, my brother followed and I followed one year later. I spent two years with the club. Then we moved to Lyon and I had to change clubs. I've been with the same club ever since.

WR: When did you decide to take rowing to the elite level?
JCR: It was a very, very gradual process. It was not in my head when I started. It was like a passion that built. First I was in local competitions and, because of my results, I moved to larger competitions and then selection for the junior national team.

Then, little by little, I raised the bar – I put my objectives higher – and aimed for the under-23s and then the senior team. At this time the French results were not that good so when we reached the final at the World Championships it was a fantastic result. So I wasn't born a champion, it was built over the years.

I must mention a key time in my rowing career was in 1992. I was a student and I graduated as an engineer. I thought it would be impossible to have a career and be an athlete, so just before the Barcelona Olympics I announced that I would stop my sporting career (after the Olympics), not because I wanted to but because I wanted to start working. In Barcelona I met with some business people and they talked about the idea of a way to do both. I proposed a project to the company (EDF nuclear division) and it was accepted. I absolutely think that was the key moment in my career. If I hadn't had this opportunity I would have stopped rowing.

WR: Now that you were working for EDF how did you manage to continue training with Michel Andrieux? (Rolland's pairs partner through the Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney Olympics.)

JCR: Michel was living near Bordeaux and I was in Lyon. We had training camps in each other's region and national training camps. Lyon had a training centre so I had people to train with, but I had to fit with work so I had to train very early in the morning – in the single or on the erg. At work I had the opportunity to go running around the nuclear power plant.

WR: Each Olympics that you went to you stepped up (fourth at Barcelona, third at Atlanta and first at Sydney). What do you put this progression down to?

JCR: It was a real gradual progression since 1990 and the arrival of Eberhard Mund (France's new head coach). We followed his programme – high intensity and a lot of hours training. The results are the outcome of long term training and preparation, and each year we improved.

WR: Your gold medal pairs race at the Sydney 2000 Olympics is still talked about especially about your early sprint. Was that the race plan?

JCR: I'm really amazed that this race is still so popular. A lot of people still talk about it and it's been seen over 200,000 times on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cym4_teegyM

Some people say we actually made a mistake about where we were in the race (when we started sprinting), that we thought the 1,000m mark was really the 1,500m mark. This isn't true. Coming through the semifinals we knew that we were ready mentally and physically. Also, because in the semifinal we were behind the British crew (Greg Searle and Ed Coode) until the last stroke, the psychological side was great because we knew we had a good finish to the race. We knew this was our very last international race together so, if we wanted to do it, we had to do it now.

We knew that all crews had a feeling that we had a fast finish so that's why, instead of waiting until the last 250m, we decided 'let's do it much before'. So first we wanted to start as quickly as possible, but not burn all our energy. We knew the British had a very fast start so we didn't want to lead then. The strategy was to keep connected with the British and at the 1’000m mark we would do our usual 30 strokes hard to re-launch the boat for the second part of the race. That was the strategy before the race, but we knew we would have to adapt.
What happened was Searle and Coode were too far ahead so we were concerned that we were too far behind at the 500m mark. The 30 strokes at half way were so efficient that Michel said, 'let's continue at this intensity'. We kept on through the third 500.

Then we had to manage the last part of the race. We were burnt out but we knew we had to do more; more than 100 per cent. We knew it would be hard in the last part so we had to create something emotional. We decided to use the names of our new children – both of us had young boys. In the last 20 strokes this created the necessary emotion to get to the finish line.

Can you win without taking a risk in an Olympic final? The answer is 'no'. Our fastest 500m of the race was the third one. This is unusual, irrational. I would never say it's a strategy to replicate, but it shows that the mental side can make a difference. You need the mental/emotional side to push your skills.

WR: Was it always your decision to stop international rowing after Sydney or would you have reconsidered if you hadn't won gold?

JCR: This was absolutely planned whatever the result would've been. Both of us had decided to stop.

WR: Do you still row or erg?
JCR: Rowing is part of my life. I closed the book on my international career, but that doesn't mean I stopped rowing. Rowing is now about having fun. I have my professional life – resolving problems, meetings, computers – and I need physical activities for my body. I've been in London for the past four years and I rowed with a group of (ex) international rowers. Every Saturday and Sunday we had an eight on the water. It was fantastic. But mostly at the moment I'm on the erg.

WR: How many times a week?
JCR: (laughs) I try to have one session a day. It's not always possible but I push to make it happen, so most times it's 5 – 6 times a week. It's an investment for me, it's far from pleasure but I need physical activity to have a fruitful day.

WR: Is there a standard workout that you do?
JCR: Yes (smiles), 10km, a break and then 8km. Sometimes, depending on the environment, I have more breaks.

WR: How's your performance going over the years?
JCR: Obviously my performance is going down, but very slowly. On long distance I am still at a pretty good level. In 2003 at the CRASH-Bs I did 5:48 (for 2000m on the erg). I had the French national record for more than ten years of 5:46. Now my range for 10km is 1:38 to 1:41 (for /500m splits).

WR: Tell us a little about your family.
JCR: My wife’s name is Muriel and we have three children; Victor, 14, Ulysse, 11, Guillemette, 8.

WR: Is Muriel a rower?
JCR: Not at all. She was interested and we had a session but I'm a terrible coach so she didn't continue. Victor has just started to row.

WR: Have you encouraged Victor to row?
JCR: Not at all. I would like my kids to have a non-academic activity, whatever it is it's up to them to find their best choice.

WR: While rowing what did you know about FISA?
JCR: I've been involved in FISA since 1994 when I joined the athletes' commission. Then in 2002 I was elected chair of the athletes' commission, so I became part of the council. In 2004 there was a vacancy on the executive committee and they selected me to fill it. So it's been a gradual step by step process. I'm now 20 years with FISA.

WR: Is there anything that you would like to add?
JCR: When I started to be involved in FISA I never had it in my mind to be president. About two years ago Denis Oswald announced that he would be standing down. Some people asked if I'd be interested. I thought about it – whether I had the skills, capacity and proper environment to do it. I haven't reached the middle of my professional career yet and I have a family that I need to spend time with. I had to ensure that there was the right balance between these three dimensions – professional life, family and FISA.

The role of president is very demanding so I had to find the best environment and conditions. I'm now based in Lausanne through my company as it's important to be connected with our sport and also other sports so Lausanne is the best place to be.

Denis was at a high level in the IOC and has a lot of experience. I'm far away from his level so I know I have to climb step by step. I will need to build the networks in and out of our sport.