Top athlete Robert Tiemeijer takes gold in China

“It doesn’t get better than this”

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Top athlete Robert Tiemeijer takes gold in China

At the age of 24, Robert Tiemeijer is a sixth-year Applied Physics student, but also student rowing world champion. He took that title in China this summer, racing in an eight-man boat, and considers it his best achievement to date. Patiently and extensively he explains what rowing and the student rowing association Thêta mean to him.

photo Gabriël Walenberg

In between packing up all his belongings in his room, Robert Tiemeijer found the time to visit the Thêta boathouse for an interview. This week, he is moving from an Eindhoven student house where he lives with rower Lisa Scheenaard, to a rowing house in Berkeley, California. His furniture and boxes will be put into storage and in six months, when he returns from his internship in the United States, he hopes to move into another room in Eindhoven for the final stretch of his physics program.

He has not yet packed away the gold medal he won in China at the Universiade this summer. He has brought it with him and patiently shows it to any Thêta member who wishes to see it. He carefully takes it out, passes it around, and carefully puts it back again; this happens several times. Everyone is in awe of the medal and Robert readily explains that it contains three grams of real gold, which is worth quite a bit. But the medal means much more to him; it is his greatest achievement. “It doesn’t get better than this.”


What the world title symbolizes for Robert above all is relief with a capital R. “I was supposed to go in 2021. But because it was to take place in China in the middle of the Covid-19 period it was postponed. The next year I had qualified again, and again it was canceled. Now, in 2023, it was finally allowed to take place. It was my last chance, because by the next Universiade I will be too old to compete (maximum age 26, Ed.). That period of uncertainty is now over and I’m happy we got to wrap it up in such a great way.” Together with seven other rowing students from other universities (“plus a coxswain, also a student”) Robert rowed their boat to victory from his position as bowman. They managed to row two thousand meters in just five and a half minutes (5:35.60).

I heard people say that the opening ceremony was more impressive than the one at the Tokyo Olympics

Robert Tiemeijer
Master's Student AP and world rowing champion

Robert will remember the atmosphere at the Universiade all his life. “The Dutch team consisted of 64 athletes across 11 sports and Wim Koch (director of SSCE, Ed.) was Assistant Head of Delegation. I heard people say that the opening ceremony was more impressive than the one at the Tokyo Olympics. All the countries’ teams walked together in a parade through a very large stadium. Xi Jinping opened the games. It was all very cool.” He has now bought tickets to attend the OS in Paris to find out if it will be just as amazing. Chances are he will get to see Lisa Scheenaard and Sander de Graaf in action.

The Eindhoven native has been training at Thêta since his last year of secondary school. He started to get really serious about rowing when, as a first-year Applied Physics student, he won all the races in the Development classification of the Dutch Rowing Federation. “That was also the first time I was sent abroad. I got to compete in the European Universities Games in Coimbra, Portugal.” Because of his relatively slender build (1.93 m tall and 85 kilos) and technical prowess, Robert’s position in the boat is in the bow seat on the starboard side. “That means I have the oar on my left.”

The culture at Thêta is that you can train before morning classes

Robert Tiemeijer
Master's Student AP and world rowing champion

Robert is very happy with the combination of studying and top-level sports. “I’m very interested in physics and what makes Thêta so great is that they allow you to get in your first workout of the day before classes. My alarm clock is set at 5:30 every school day. On Tuesdays, the entire race crew trains at 6:30. That doesn’t happen at other rowing clubs in the Netherlands, but at Thêta it is part of the culture.”

Another advantage is that Robert can also train in the evenings here, even after dark. The canal is so narrow that no motorized boats are allowed, so it is safe to do so. “There is also a downside to the narrow water; you can’t spar or organize races. So we do that in Tilburg or Rotterdam.”

His top sports status granted to him by the SSCE was not frequently put to use. He took time to study on the weekends, and he managed to train twelve times a week. Unfortunately, however, the third exam period coincides with the Dutch Championships for small boats. Those are important because they serve as selections for the big boats with eight rowers. “The Dutch Championships for small boats are serious races where you can prove yourself. In order to compete, I once asked for a postponement of an exam on a Friday afternoon and was then allowed to complete it as an oral exam at another time.”

There are ten other rowers at Thêta with top sports status. Some use it for a less strict BSA. Robert obtained 50 credits in his first year of study, five more than is required for regular students.


Robert has lived in Eindhoven all his life and perhaps that is the reason why he now really wants to spread his wings. “I’m going to do an internship at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where I will help with research on Hopfions. I could have gone abroad earlier, but I didn’t want to go during rowing season.”

Rowing boat fleet

Robert takes a boat from the rack for the photo series. From the 73 boats lined up in the boathouse, he chooses MomenTUm, a boat he has rowed many times. The association has (had) a total of 172 boats that were named during a christening ceremony, usually by honorary members or other prominent figures. A boat without a name brings bad luck, as every rower knows. Just last week, Nicole Ummelen got to christen a boat during her farewell from TU/e. The name was chosen by the Thêta board: Mens Agitat Molem. TU/e’s motto.


With Robert leaving for the United States, he will sadly miss out on his official celebration ceremony organized by the student rowing association. The ceremony will also honor the achievements of Noortje Wilms, who secured a silver medal, and Vera Sneijders, who earned a bronze medal at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Bulgaria.

Robert has often attended the annual parties dubbed “In-training” and “Out-training”. These parties mark the rowing periods, and the In-training party is a bit like Carnival. “It’s the last time you drink alcohol before you start living super healthy for six months. Some people will drink so much that they don’t even feel like having a beer for six months afterwards. But those are mostly first-years. Most people stop doing that when they get a little older,” he says with a smile. Out-training parties take place after the last race of the season, the name says it all.

Blikken” means winning

Robert Tiemeijer
Master's Student AP and world rowing champion
Victory celebration

The world of rowing is full of traditions, both in word and deed. Just think of the Dutch verb “blikken”. Robert explains: “When you “blik”, you win the race. “Blikken” means winning. It comes from the expression “blik trekken”, which translates to “pulling the medal”. In the past, the winner's coach would hang the medal around his neck and the winner would pull on medallion to obtain it. The coach got to keep the ribbon.”

For Robert, the greatest tradition, without a doubt, is “Going bald”. That is what happens when you win your first 2 K race (rowing 2000 meter, Ed.). Your hair is shaved off and that symbolizes being reborn. It happened to me in 2017 in Rotterdam when I won in a coxed four. The tradition stems from pride, and that’s why I think everyone gladly participates in this victory celebration.” He also considered it an honor that everyone could see that he had been victorious.

For now, there are not that many races on the horizon for Robert. He has not yet joined a rowing association in Berkeley. The fact that he will be living in a rowing house was a matter of networking. “I’ll take my racing bike with me, though.  I think California will be a really great place to bike.”

Continue reading below the photo.

Eindhoven’s contribution to Universiade 2023

The student games we call Universiade are organized under the banner of FISU, the International University Sports Federation. This federation was founded in 1948 by a Frenchman who called it the Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire, hence the abbreviation.

In addition to Robert Tiemeijer and Wim Koch, ninety other Dutch nationals were present in China this summer. 64 athletes competed in eleven different disciplines. Also representing Eindhoven were Niels Thijssen and Koen van der Wijst. Judoka Niels studies Industrial Engineering at TU/e. Koen is currently studying at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, but completed his bachelor's degree in Technical Business Administration at TU/e. Koen won a bronze medal in pole vault.

Of the 28 Dutch officials, three are from Eindhoven. SSCE employees Rebeka Trca and Sophie Wagenaars accompanied Wim Koch. The director of the Student Sports Center acted as Assistant Head of Delegation this time, but will serve as Head of Delegation at the next Universiade, which will be held in Germany.

Did you know?

  • Did you know that Thêta’s origins can be traced back to Demos and E.S.C?  The student rowing association was founded on October 8, 1975 as a merger between E.S.R. Tachos (founded in 1960 as a sub-association of the E.S.C by the son of Dorgelo, our first Rector Magnificus) and D.R.V. Telamon (founded in 1965 by Demos members who were not admitted to E.S.R. Tachos).
  • Did you know that Thêta has its own rowing boat company called Botenwagen Compagnie that still transport boats for many associations throughout the Netherlands to this day?
  • Did you know that Thêta participated in the prestigious and long-standing Henley Royal Regatta in England as early as 1990? It wasn’t until this year that they got to compete again
  • Did you know that Thêta’s first appearance at the Olympics was in Sydney in 2000? Thêta member Dirk Lippits won a silver medal in the quadruple sculls. “Disillusioned with coming in second place (in rowing, not finishing first is often considered losing, after all), he decided to hang this silver medal as a flush pull cord for the classically high-hanging cistern to flush the toilet at rowing house Tachos, where Dirk lived at the time,” says Fabian Lucas Luijckx, president of Thêta. “Even after Dirk left the house, this prestigious medal continued to hang there for quite some time, until Dirk’s girlfriend at the time ordered him to go pick it up after all.”
  • Did you know that Thêta also performed well at the most recent Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021? Lisa Scheenaard (Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences alumna) secured a bronze medal in the double sculls and Sander de Graaf (Mechanical Engineering alumnus) took sixth place in the coxless four.
  • Did you know that this summer’s World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria brought even more medals for Thêta members? Silver for Architecture student Noortje Wilms, bronze for Vera Sneijders (Biomedical Engineering student at TU/e) and a fifth place for bowman Olle van Bohemen (pre-master’s student Mechanical Engineering at TU/e). And at the European Under 23 Championships in Krefeld, Germany, TU/e Applied Mathematics student Emanuele Bergamin won a gold medal.


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