Next Stop Tokyo: Oliver Zeidler

Tokyo 2020 Athlete Interviews

3 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 26.07.21

Oliver Zeidler, 25, from Dachau, Germany, has made a good start at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Having won both his heat and quarterfinal, the German single sculler is still on track to fulfil his “life’s goal” of winning the Olympics. His next race at the Sea Forest Waterway will be the rescheduled A|B Semifinal. A former swimmer and current World and European Rowing Champion Oliver Zeidler is coached by his father, Heino Zeidler. Heino is a former German national team rower as is his father, Oliver’s grandfather, Hans-Johann Färber. Färber competed in the German coxed four known as the Bullenvierer and won the Munich 1972 Olympics. A week before arriving in Japan, Oliver Zeidler shared his thoughts on Tokyo 2020.

Photo M1x GER Tokyo 2020

How’s training going? It was a bit rainy this morning. I did some acclimatisation work for the first time. We heated up a room and hung wet towels everywhere, to recreate the humidity of Japan. It worked well. We had 30°C and 90% humidity.

Where are you at the moment? I’m at home in Munich, Germany. 

Not on training camp? No. We went on camp immediately after the last World Cup. We were in Austria for about three weeks, we rowed on their highest mountain lake. I went with the German national team. And after that, everyone went home for one week and the others then went to Japan for a training camp in Kinosaki. I decided to stay here because it was unclear what the conditions would be like. They will train on a river, and at the moment the water is very high and there is a lot of current. In the single these conditions are not easy, and I know in Tokyo, we will not have any current, so I chose to prepare here on the lake in Munich. It is more comparable than rowing on a river. I am the only German rower who is currently still in Germany.

That’s the luxury of being in the single? Yes, definitely. My father and I decided what we are doing and then we had to convince the national team but, in this case, it was not a problem. My dad is my coach. He taught me how to row in 2016. And ever since has been my coach. He handles the boat and keeps track of everything. We are a good team and without him it wouldn’t work that well.

How’s your season been? It has been pretty good for me. Every time I raced I won a medal. It was the first time in my career that I won a World Cup and I managed two World Cup gold medals. In the last World Cup, the preparation was not as good for me. I got my second vaccination directly after Lucerne. The week after I was off training and so I only had one week to prepare for Sabaudia which of course was not the best thing. And in the final, we had very difficult conditions. But I think I showed that I can handle these now. I’m pretty confident about Tokyo.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

When’s your flight to Tokyo? My flight is on the 15th. We fly over to Frankfurt, which is one hour from Munich. And then we fly directly to Tokyo, which will make it about a 12- or 13-hour trip. And that is comparable to the trip the other scullers from Germany will make from their camp back to Tokyo. So, I am not disadvantaged.

Will you go straight to the Olympic village? Yes. I will be there on the first day when it is possible to enter the village. The course opens on the 18th so I will have a weightlifting session on the day after my arrival. And after that I will rig the boat and hopefully go on the water.

How was the Austrian training camp? It was pretty good. It is far away from anything else so there are no distractions. It is a small mountain village, and the lake is beautiful. I really calmed down and it was nice to get back to endurance training again. So, we did less intense work than in the weeks before which had been necessary to prepare for World Cups. I really liked it.

How do you feel at this stage ahead of the games? I’m a bit nervous, now, of course, it’s just one week to go. And I don’t feel very relaxed at the moment because we have done a lot of training and a lot of intense work. So, I don’t feel ready to race at the moment. But I hope this will come next week. And then I will really want to race, that would be great.

What are you hoping for? I hope for fair conditions which is a big thing in Tokyo. And if you look at the results this year – from the World Cups and the European Championships, I think a medal should be the goal. And most likely, of course, the gold medal. This is something every athlete dreams about. And I am no exception. 

Who are the big players? If you look at the results from the last few years it has been the Europeans who are on top, and thankfully we have had a lot of racing this year so I think the field is pretty clear. The strongest competitors will be Kjetil from Norway, and Sverri from Denmark. Maybe we will also see of those who came through the qualification regatta, like the Canadian or the Russian. Damir is also someone who really developed over the season – he got quicker and quicker. Maybe he has a shot in the final. We will see. In the end, it’s about getting into the final and then everyone has a chance to win.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

What kind of sessions are you doing at the moment? We do a lot of training for the 2k. A lot of two kilometres pieces at high intensity. This is the plan at the moment.

When do you think you’ll start tapering? The day before we leave, I start to back off the intensity and the volume.

Do you like the taper? It’s difficult. It depends on the people around you. Sometimes you have fun if you have got a lot of energy and your mood gets better and better. And if the others around you also experience the same thing, it can be fun. If you are alone, it can be boring.

Do you have concerns about the local reaction in Japan? My teammates told me that the Japanese population is very friendly and polite but actually you are not really welcome. So, this is not something you feel comfortable with. Of course, it is not the Games we all wished for.

Did you have any doubts it would happen? There was some doubt earlier this year. Reading the newspapers and listening to everyone talk about how the Japanese didn’t want the Olympics, but as an athlete I had to push that away because if you have doubts over whether this big event will happen then you don’t pull the last 5% in training and then you will not win a medal.  So, I think I did that pretty well. In my head, I was always confident that the games will happen. And I’m happy that now finally after one additional year of waiting and training it is time to go out there and race on the Sea Forest Waterway.

What races are you looking forward to watching? When I look over the German team, I think the eight will be very interesting because it was close into Lucerne and I’m not sure how the German boats will come back. Or if they can come back? And also it will be interesting to see the other boats, the ones that have not raced in the last World Cups, what will their form be like? Then the men’s double was pretty close all season with different names on the podium. And the other German boat the woman’s quad they have a good chance to win a medal.

Beyond rowing, what Olympic sports will you follow? At the moment I’m really concentrating on my race. I don’t go there as a tourist; I go there to race. And this is what it is all about. The Tokyo Olympics is special but, in the end, it is just a race for the medal.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

When do you come back? After my race I have got 48 hours to leave Japan. They are very strict and, as I said, you don’t really feel welcome in their country. So, I will race and then get back here and hopefully have a party here. 

Will you have to quarantine? No, I’ve got two vaccinations. So, I’m fully protected, and I won’t need to go into quarantine.

Will you be watching other sports? I will definitely watch the swimming. I’d love to go in the stadium, but it will not be possible, unfortunately, so I will watch on TV. 

Will you pack anything unusual? I’ll pack a few drinks with me; cola mix which is coke and lemonade mixed together. That’s something we introduced this year and every time I drank some of these after a race in celebration. I won the next race too, so, this is something I will definitely get into my luggage.

Video Oliver Zeidler German men’s single wins silver in Lucerne 2018