TU/e rowers turn the page after postponement Olympics

And then your agenda suddenly looks very different for the months to come. Rowers and TU/e students Lisa Scheenaard and Sander de Graaf were in the midst of preparing for the Olympics, until the International Olympic Committee confirmed last week what was already anticipated: the event has been postponed to 2021. How do they turn the page now?

photo Privécollectie Lisa Scheenaard

“Keeping focus and pleasure in rowing, in a way that the beauty of the sport stays paramount”

Although she says she was relieved and happy with clarity at last: of course Built Environment student Lisa Scheenaard also feels disappointed: the Olympic Games have been on the horizon for years. “We were working towards something so specific and everything went exactly according to schedule. We were really ready to row very fast this summer.”

But it is also really easy to put things into perspective, says Scheenaard (who has had her ticket to Tokyo since the World Cup at the end of August). “It is an enormous luxury that we can dedicate our lives to the pursuit of high performance sport. But that is, of course, by far not the most important thing, definitely not in a global crisis like this one.”

She is healthy and feels fine, now that is important, she explains when asked. She is in Amsterdam when we call her, where she jumps on her bike every day to train on the Bosbaan. The rowers still train on full speed according to her: "Actually we are now experiencing a very long winter." However, the top athletes have been given some space from the union to fill in their training days at their own discretion and need. “The coaches also said: do what feels right for you. You don't have to do all kinds of things against your will."

The training times on the Bosbaan are coordinated, so that the rowers present can keep the desired physical distance both on and off the water. Scheenaard is also happy that, as long as the Netherlands is not in a complete lockdown, she can still cycle outside for the time being. But "it is a bit of a lonely way of training."

Read on below the photo.

Moreover, it’s now training without competitive goals in the short run. The usual World Cups, European Championships, World Championships, the Olympics: until further notice the competition agenda is empty. According to Scheenaard, there is very carefully being spoken about one international event towards the end of the season, “but it will all depend on how the pandemic develops. If you look at how bad things are now in America, for example, I am afraid that there will simply be no more competitions this year.”

Long winter

And yes, that sucks. “It's the competitions you train for. Those trainings are never a waste of course, but it still feels a bit like that now.” Not that Scheenaard is therefore lacking motivation. “I have no problem with training hard, especially now that we have some room for adjustment. But the coming winter will be very long. Above all, we have to ensure that we keep our focus and pleasure in rowing, and that the beauty of the sport stays paramount.”

However, Scheenaard continues: “You notice that everyone is now doing something different. For example, one girl finds it difficult to accept everything and retires a bit. Others really need and find each other. And that's all fine.”

Besides the tight sports schedule for the coming months, many athletes also have to change their long-term plans. “Some are now getting into trouble with their work, others had planned their residencies after the Games; the postponement has consequences for many athletes. But that applies to everyone; this global catastrophe affects us all. "

Thank you Oxford

She wanted to resume her - somewhat neglected - study in September, although she still has doubts about the direction. Because even though she is registered as a master's student at Built Environment: “I notice that the longer I’m at a distance and the older I get, I feel less and less the need to make that my life's work." Scheenaard is considering shifting towards data analysis, and has since been approached by both Oxford and Cambridge to continue her academic and sport path there. She thanked them for the offer, for now: "Of course that comes with a price tag."

Read on below the video for the story of Sander de Graaf.

Lonely training on the Bosbaan. Video | Freek Robbers

Lisa Scheenaard @ Bosbaan

Lonely training on the Bosbaan. Video | Freek Robbers

“For us as a young team, that extra year is actually very interesting”

Mechanical Engineering student Sander de Graaf says he was not very surprised when the IOC issued its official statement on Wednesday March 24th. “We had previously stated to ourselves that the Games would probably not go ahead this year. It was mainly a confirmation of what we kind of already knew.”

The rowers (De Graaf is part of the coxless four male team) have of course been following developments regarding the corona virus closely for weeks. "When we heard the first signals that the World Cup in Italy might be postponed (where the NOC*NSF team should definitely show that they are ready for Tokyo, ed.), We were already joking: 'well, it doesn’t matter, the Games will be canceled anyway'.”

Nevertheless: "We were on our way to Tokyo, all training showed that we were on schedule and ready." Even when the first signals came that the Games might not happen this year, the team continued to train. “Because if it does happen, you have to be prepared. But of course we kind of knew already: it’s not going to happen.”

New plan

De Graaf is especially pleased that there is clarity now. "At least you can now make a new plan." Not much was left of the initial training program in his agenda. Training camps in Italy and Austria, had already been canceled, as well as upcoming international competitions in Italy, Switzerland and Poland, among others.

Read on below the photo.

For the time being, the rowers mainly have to work individually to maintain their condition. Training equipment is distributed among the athletes by the union, so that they can work out from home. A "somewhat more difficult period", De Graaf expects. He really hopes to be able to train with the rest of the team again soon "and to hopefully row a tournament somewhere - if it’s safe and if someone is willing to organize it.” Because, the rower says: "It is easier to train if you have a race ahead, that makes you that tiny bit sharper."

Postponement will not lead to a waiver for the coxless four, De Graaf assures us. Their ticket to Tokyo remains valid and in fact the TU/e student thinks that next year they will only have a greater chance of winning honorary metal. “We are a young and fresh team, that now actually gets an extra year to prepare and to perform even better. So that extra year is mostly just very interesting.”

De Graaf actually wanted to start graduating after the Games in Tokyo; teammates also have quite some study load left. But according to De Graaf, it is crystal clear that no one intends to miss Tokyo 2021 for that reason. The TU/e student is not yet sure when he expects to graduate himself, and whether it might be an option to expedite that process.

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