Athlete of the Month – March 2013

The women’s quadruple sculls has been the focus for Ukraine in Olympic rowing and in 2012, two decades after the country became independent, they won Olympic gold. Yana Dementieva was part of this crew that became Ukraine’s first Olympic rowing gold for women. For Dementieva, the medal was 10 years in the making and her ultimate motivation and goal ever since she began rowing. World Rowing is privileged to have the stroke of the Olympic Champion boat, Yana Dementieva, as the March Athlete of the Month.

Part I

World Rowing: Tell us how you first got involved in rowing and what attracted you to the sport?
Yana Dementieva:
Since the age of 10 I have been active in track and field athletics. However, when I started my university studies in economics at the age of 17, I wanted to focus on studying. When I was in my third year of studies, I was approached by a rowing coach who invited me to try out this sport. By then I had started missing being active in sports, participation in training camps and competitions, and the feeling of competitiveness. At that time it was winter and I was waiting for the ice on the river to melt and take part in the tryouts.

I absolutely fell in love with rowing and developed a crystalline dream – (to win) Olympic gold. I like the fact that this sport is always outdoors as I love nature. I always want to improve myself, especially since rowing requires a high focused level of coordination.  

WR: Where are you at present?
I am currently in my home city of Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine where I am spending most of my time preparing for the new season.

WR: Are you in full time training?
Yes, all my time is devoted to training now. While I was training in rowing, I also became interested in psychology and psychological issues that athletes face. I therefore received a second university degree in sports psychology, in addition to my university degree in economics. I think that it helped me realise my dreams and continues to help and support me now during training and competitions.

WR: What is your typical day like at present?
A typical day starts with morning exercise. This is then followed by the first rowing session of the day. The second rowing session follows straight after lunch.

WR: You did not lose any races in 2012, what was different in training from other years that helped you and your crew be so consistent in 2012?
We always work hard, but we never worked as hard as last year. I think we even trained at night. Our coach almost completely changed our training methodology and it gave its results.

WR: You swapped between the double and the quad, how is it decided what boat you row in?
Over the past 10 years, I have spent three seasons in a double. The decision to change boats was based on the time it took to compete in the different boats and which would lead to the best results in competition on the international level.

WR: You have raced internationally every year for the last 10 years. What keeps you motivated?
All this time I had only one motivation, one dream. Like any athlete, my motivation was to win the Olympic gold.

WR: What is the longest break you have had from rowing in the last 10 years?
My longest break was after the London Olympics. I had spent years training without a rest and the reason was just to rest, mentally as well as physically.

WR: What is your best memory from the London Olympic Games?
The most vivid memories are of the day of the finals on the 1st of August, 2012. Beginning with breakfast and finishing late at night after all the celebrations and live interviews with Ukraine (TV). Words cannot explain the explosion of emotions, happiness, pleasant tiredness and some feeling of relief that it was over. There were calls home and tears of happiness.

WR: What was your first thought after you crossed the finish line in the final at London?
My first thought when I crossed the finishing line: ‘God I made it, was I really able to do it?’ For some time I could not believe that on my third attempt I conquered Olympus.

WR:  Was there a lot of interest in you and your crew when you returned to Ukraine after the Olympics, especially being the first rowing gold for your country?
There was a lot of interest in us after the finals at the Olympics. Not only were we the first Ukrainian Olympic gold winners in rowing, but the medal we brought home was also the 100th Ukrainian medal won at the Olympic Games. There were many celebrations and official meetings, live broadcasts, interviews and a wide range of public events. We were often on TV and many people recognised us. Frankly, we really did not expect that things would be like that.

WR: Have you been honoured in your country in other ways?
Yes, we received state awards and monetary prizes for Olympic gold.

Part II

World Rowing: You mentioned you studied sports psychology, can you tell us one or two things that you found out about psychological issues with athletes that really surprised you? How did doing this degree help you in your own competitive rowing?
Yana Dementieva: I was surprised to learn that in order to become successful, a champion must always be critical of him/herself and dissatisfied with him/herself. This is the fee for victory, for the fact that victory remains in the memory of the champion forever. The most difficult part is waiting for the start. It turns out that a difficult start is not the one that is difficult to execute, but the one that is hard to wait for! When I realised that there is no limit to perfection and learned to cope with waiting for the start, things got a lot easier.

WR: Are you still studying?
I have already finished studying, but I still read a lot of books on self-development. I do my best to have continuous development and learn new things.

WR: How often do you do 2000m tests on the indoor rowing machine? What is your best 2000m test?
When we are not able to get out on the water, we use rowing machines. I rowed my personal best result on the machine in February 2012 – 6:36.3 while weighing 74kg.

WR: Do you spend the winter season training in Dnepropetrovsk or do you go to other place(s) for training camps?
We spend the winter in different ways. We often go to warmer places where rowing is possible during winter, for example Cairo in Egypt. Last year we spent the winter training in Mingechaur in Azerbaijan, but this winter we stayed in Dnepropetrovsk.

WR: What kind of cross training do you do in the winter months?
During winter, we do a lot of swimming in swimming pools and also do a lot of skiing.

WR: What has been your hardest training day so far this month?
I am not quite sure how to answer this question. I can say that the best day of my training was when the weather warmed up and we went out on the water, there was virtually no wind and I had a lot of fun training.

WR: What do you like to do to help recovery?
When I get tired I prefer distraction, I like to spend time and be with friends who are not athletes. I also like outdoor activities: bowling, ice skating or rollerblading.

WR: If you weren’t rowing can you imagine what you would be doing?
I think that if I was not engaged in rowing, I would probably work in my field of study as an economist according to my first university degree.

WR: What will be your first race of this season?
My first race this season will be the Cup of Ukraine at the beginning of May where we will compete to qualify for the European Championships.

WR: What are your long term plans in rowing?
I am often asked this question and often ask whether I will be preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games. Honestly, I cannot answer this question as I cannot plan that far ahead. For now, I would like to have a successful upcoming season.