World Rowing spoke to the reigning Dutch World Champion single sculler Karolien Florijn about her rowing career and her recent Golden Oar award.

The Golden Oar is an award given to exceptional Dutch single scullers. The award holds significant historical value, given it was first awarded in 1892, making it one of the oldest rowing prizes. Only seven scullers have ever won it.

Florijn certainly has the credentials to take the Golden Oar, given her trophy cabinet includes being the two-time World Rowing Champion in the women’s single sculls, alongside being an Olympic silver medallist in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the women’s coxless four. She says, “It is a huge honour to be chosen to receive it.” She was presented with the accolade by another previous holder, Marit van Eupen, who received the prize in 2006. There is a tradition, rather like passing on the torch, of the previous award holder presenting the prize to the next recipient.

Her nomination for this award actually happened before her latest victory in the 2023 World Rowing Championship in Belgrade when she received a call before the semi-finals. “Thankfully, it was no pressure,” laughs Florijn, “as they assured me I would receive the award regardless of my performance here.” Clearly, her subsequent win only further underlines her worthiness for the Golden Oar.

Florijn comes from a rowing family – her father, Ronald Florijn is a two time Olympic Champion (Men’s Double Sculls, 1988; Men’s Eight, 1996) and four time World Championship medallist (’89, ’91, ’94, ’95). Her mother, Antje Rehaag, was on the German National Team, and competed at both World Rowing Championships and Olympic Games. Karolien also has two younger brothers – Finn and Beer – who have both found their own success on the water. Finn mirrored his sister’s 2023 World Rowing Championship gold with a win in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls.

The Netherlands have a rich rowing culture, regularly producing world-class athletes. Florijn says, “It helps that our nation has lots of water!”. There is also a tendency for beginners to start in the single scull rather than in big boats, which instils an immediate demand for balance, technique and the feel of the boat, which has helped Florijn thrive as a sculler. Florijn notes, “While, of course, I enjoy the team spirit in a bigger boat class, I really like the single scull because of the freedom. In Amsterdam, where I train, I can just wake up, jump on a bike, and go straight to the river to scull with my own plan and my own schedule and not necessarily depend on others. I just love it.”

Curiously, the Golden Oar features an ornate box containing a silver oar with three hooks. The hooks were designed to hang the gold medals of the World Rowing Championships, the European Rowing Championships, and the Olympics. Florijn already has two of the hooks occupied and is laser-focused on filling the last hook. “My ultimate goal is to win the Gold Medal in the Olympics. When I won my first World Cup in the single, it was my proudest moment because up till then, I didn’t know what I was capable of. When I won the 2023 World Rowing Championships, the feeling was an explosion of emotions, with all the training paying off. I celebrated, partied and then quickly switched my focus to training for the Paris Olympics, with my mind now occupied with the most immediate upcoming regatta, the World Cup in Varese in April this year.”

Florijn has already cemented herself as one of the best scullers in Dutch history, so when asked what she hopes are to be her legacy, her responds were both modest yet ambitious: “To share the feelings of joy I get in rowing and to show how great rowing is to the world.”

Rowing is lucky to have such an inspiring ambassador in our sport, and we wish Florijn well in the coming season.