Next Stop Tokyo: Maike Diekmann

Tokyo 2020 Athlete Interviews

2 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell & Bruce Viaene
Published 09.07.21

Maike Diekmann, 26, grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Otjiwarongo, Namibia, and learnt to row at the University of Pretoria Rowing Club (TUKS). Maike qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by winning FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta and will be Namibia’s first Olympic rower. She shares her thoughts on Tokyo 2020.

Photo NAM W1x
Credit Bruce Viaene

How’s your season been? It has gone well, I raced at the Memorial Paolo D’Aloja International regatta in Piediluco, Italy and won two silver medals. Then I raced at World Cup III in Sabaudia, Italy.

Row360 caught your reaction after the semifinal of the World Cup III – it was big– what happened? I crossed the line and had no idea where I’d come. Lovisa Claesson moved on me in the second half, but I didn’t realise we’d both rowed through Great Britain in the sprint finish. I paddled past the safety boats and tried to catch my breath; all I wanted to know was if I’d made the A final. I was alone at the regatta and I didn’t have anyone at the jetty to tell me the result, so I asked the safety officers and they said I’d come 4th. I asked them to check and they said “yes Namibia 4th” and held up four fingers. I was so upset, I even shouted a few inappropriate words in frustration. I’d raced such a great race and executed the plan so well; I was devastated to miss the A-Final. I cooled down on the water and tried to come to terms with it. When I got back I weighed and washed the boat and then went to bag drop. The first thing I did was to check online. And that’s when I saw I’d placed second and made the A-Final: I couldn’t believe it and I had made my first A-final. I was overcome with emotion. I sat down and phoned my coach. It was one of the craziest moments of my rowing career. What a rollercoaster ride!

Photo NAM W1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

What ignited your Olympic dream? The 2015 African Olympic Qualifiers in Tunisia, the qualifying event for Rio, it was my first race representing Namibia and I’d only been rowing for 10 months. I came home determined to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The goal was set but the path to achieving it was anything but clear.

How did you do it? Lots of trial and error! I started by training harder and getting more comfortable in the single. It has been a tough journey but a rewarding one. As the only Namibian rower there’s no system to rely on. Many people took an interest and believed in me, and that has really helped. I am grateful for each and every single one of them. The hardest moments were training on my own and pushing on when no one was watching or showing me the way forward. I kept going and hoped things would fall into place; thank goodness for my stubbornness. I formed a small team around me, and this helped build my self-belief. This journey has taught me a lot and I have many memories, from FISA development camps to rowing on the Kafue River in Zambia. I’ve been fortunate to share these special memories with incredibly passionate people.

When do you fly? I have just arrived. I flew on the 8th of July from Sweden via Frankfurt. It is very exciting; this is my first time in Japan!

Will you go straight to the athlete village? No, I am training with Lovisa Claesson from Sweden on a pre-camp from the 9th-19th July in Itako Village. I’ll head back to the athlete village afterwards.

When’s your first row on the course? It will probably be on the 20th.

When do you leave Tokyo? On the 31st July and I will fly back home to Namibia to see my family. I haven’t been at home with my family for a while, the last time I spent any length of time there was over Christmas last year.

How do you feel? I am finally feeling excited, the build-up has been long, and Covid-19 has added so much admin and anxiety to the planning, now that I have safely arrived in Japan, I feel a lot better and I’m ready to take it all in.

What’s your target? I hope to make the top 12, and race in the A/B semifinal. It’s a tough field and there’s many phenomenal women competing. I’m sure there will be some great racing and I am excited to see what I am cable of.

What motivates you? The fact that I am Namibia’s first Olympic rower and that so many people back home are behind me and rooting for me to represent our small nation at the world’s biggest sporting event. I am one of only 11 athletes representing Namibia at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Photo NAM W1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell