Our first Rower of the Month for 2024 had a hugely successful season in 2023. Dimitra Eleni Kontou took gold at the 2023 World Rowing U23 Championships, setting a new World Best Time in the process. Aged just 18, she competed at her first senior championships, picking up a silver medal at the European Rowing Championships, just a couple of seconds behind the dominant GB lightweight women’s double.
To prove that her skills weren’t just in a boat, to finish an incredible year off, she broke seven world records on the indoor rowing machine.
However, as we move into 2024, Kontou has just one thing on her mind…
2023 was an amazing year for you with some huge achievements. Do you have a personal highlight?
This year has been a very successful year for me. The two achievements holding a special place in my heart are the gold medal in the U23 World Championships, in which my teammate and I achieved a new world best time, and the silver medal in the European championships, which was my first regatta as a senior.
In 2023 you broke the World Best Time at the U23 Championships. What did this win mean to you?
This world best time was on my mind for a long time. My teammate and I had rowed together since 2022 and we knew we could go fast, so, of course, we wanted to win the gold but our main target was to achieve the World Best Time. The expectations were high and there was a lot of pressure, especially because in 2023 we rowed in different crews with which we were trying to qualify at the end of the season. The U23 world rowing championships were a 10-day break for us from our normal crews. As you understand, by finally achieving this target I felt that that event was my personal confirmation.
To finish off an amazing year, you broke 7 world records on the rowing machine – tell us more about that!
Since last year, when I accidentally broke the 2000 meter world record, I set out, as a target, to break a few more before I changed category. At the end of December, after I finished the last camp of the year, it was my final chance to do it. I had about a week left so I had to break one or two records a day. It was either the records or the everyday training so it was really motivating, as I love a good challenge.
How did you first get into rowing?
When I was about 8 years old my brother got into rowing. I was already into track and field sports and football back then but as the little sister I wanted to do whatever he was doing so I started rowing too. As the years kept going by I grew to love this sport and it’s gotten me to where I am today. To be honest if I told 15-year-old me then that in three years I would be competing at this level I would call myself crazy.
When you aren’t rowing, what does your life look like?
A normal day means rowing for me. The few days I don’t row, I think about it. As an elite athlete these days are very important for me, on a physical and mental aspect. Usually I will stay in and relax, maybe have a coffee with my friends, nothing special. At this point of my life I am really dedicated to rowing and I have an important target, to go to the Olympics, so everything revolves around rowing. I have to say that I have caught myself, many times, thinking like I would think while rowing in my everyday tasks, every rower can understand what I mean.
What are your upcoming goals in rowing?
As I said earlier my main goal this season is to qualify for the Olympic games. This has been a huge dream of mine since I can remember.
Where is your favourite rowing location?
Home will always have a special place in my heart since that’s where everything started, though my second home is Schinias where I train most of my days for the last few years. The one place I fell in love with was the course of Bled in Slovenia, where we competed last year.
If you could give one piece of advice to a rower starting out what would it be?
Always believe in yourself and find ways to achieve your goals. Even if you don’t achieve your target the journey to your “Ithaki” is something you will always remember. Never back down, no matter what others say.
What is the most memorable piece of advice that has been said to you?
My coach, Aristos, always used to say and still does; “Set your target to God, so you can reach as close to him as you can, but always remember to be humble on all the way there”. That advice has stuck with me in and out of rowing.
Do you have a mentor or athlete that you admire?
I started out from zero just because of one person believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, my club coach Aristos Voygiatzes who, with the help of my second coach Kostas Konstantaras, made me the person I am today. Giovanni Postiglione was the one who thought that I had something special enough to make me a part of the Greek Olympic Team and did everything he could to keep me there despite the pressure and the complaints of others because of my young age. He stood by me at every moment and I feel very grateful to be surrounded by these kinds of people in my life.