Maike Diekmann became the first Namibian rower to compete at the Olympic Games when she raced the Women’s Single Sculls this past summer in Tokyo. After an excellent season in the lead-up, she finished as the highest-ranked female African sculler at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Named one of three new ambassadors for the Kafue River & Rowing Centre late in 2021, she has high hopes for the development of rowing in Namibia and is proud to be helping lead the way. She is our January 2022 Rower of the Month. We sat down with Maike to chat some more:
How was your 2021 rowing season?
I had a great 2021 season, with many new achievements for me. New personal bests and international medals (two silvers at Memorial Paolo d’ Aloja International Regatta, Italy), as well as making it into my first A-final of my rowing career at World Cup III in Sabaudia, Italy.
Of course, the highlight of the season was competing for the first time at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. I achieved the goal I had set myself in 2015 to qualify and compete at an Olympic Games for my home country Namibia.
I didn’t completely achieve the results that I had hoped for but I also know that finally being at the Games after many challenging years of preparation and the Covid-19 pandemic, I was more than happy to call myself an Olympian after all.
How did you first get into rowing?
I got into rowing by joining the Rowing Club of my University in South Africa, where I finished my studies in 2016 (Rhodes University Rowing Club, RURC).
I wanted to try something new, and rowing was very different to all the sports I had competed in at school in Namibia.
Water sports were not part of my upbringing for obvious reasons – and at first, rowing seemed quite intimidating – but eventually, I gave myself a push to try it.
Where do you train?
I was based in Pretoria, South Africa, at the High-Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria (TUKS), and rowed on a nearby Dam called Roodeplaat Dam.
Can you tell us more about being the first Namibian Olympic rower and what that means to you?
I am extremely proud to be the first Namibian Olympic rower. It’s been a challenging but exciting road to representing Namibia in rowing for the first time at Olympic level.
It was never easy. Due to not having any training centre/system in place at home, I had to find my way as I went along. Luckily, I had a great support system build up after a few years – and they all contributed towards the legacy I will leave behind for Namibian rowing.
Being the first Namibian Olympic rower means a lot more than just my achievements, though; it means I have a responsibility.
I want to leave behind a lot more than just my Olympic debut and the story behind it. I want to make sure rowing grows and develops into a more recognised sport back home.
That is my ultimate goal, and it will add a lot more depth and character to my story as Namibia’s first Olympic rower.
What has life been like since the Games?
Life has been very different compared to what my last five years have looked like. Since the Games, I have taken it very easy, giving my body and mind all the rest it needed after an intense long prep for the Games.
I have been able to spend more time at home in Namibia with my family, which has been so special. I have been able to do some travelling to visit old friends and visit new places.
I have also been trying out new fun ways of exercising without any pressure of following a specific programme and just doing what I feel like; that’s been a nice welcoming change for me.
I have also taken the time to try to figure out what to do with life after rowing, focus on my other hobbies and interest to set up a smoother transition from pro athlete life into “normal” life.
When you aren’t rowing, what does your life look like? Are you a student, do you work or is rowing a full-time job?
I was a student a few years back when I started with rowing. After I graduated, I was very fortunate to have received the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship to prepare for Tokyo 2020.
I was, therefore, able to commit full-time to rowing and not work a full-time job on the side.
What are your upcoming goals in rowing?
I am currently focusing on developing the sport back home in Namibia. I am also involved in organising possibly an international rowing event this year in Namibia.
Where is your favourite rowing location?
Definitely the Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland.
If you could give one piece of advice to a rower starting out, what would it be?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable – haha. Rowing is a fun sport but it’s definitely one of the toughest sports I have ever done. And the sooner you realise this, and that there will be lots of uncomfortable, out-of-your comfort zone situations, the easier it will be for you to accept and love the sport for what it is: painfully beautiful.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice that has been said to you?
Make each training session count, and you have the power to turn a bad training session around at any point.
Do you have a mentor or athlete that you admire?
A friend and mentor that has been a part of my early rowing days was Micheen ‘Mouse’ Thornycroft; she raced for Zimbabwe in the W1x for two Olympic Games.
Her advice and support have always helped me so much during tough days. She could relate so much to what I was going through, as she had walked a very similar path herself as a single sculler from a small, unassisted African country.
You have taken part in some of the World Rowing Development programmes in the past few years. Can you tell us how these have helped in your training?
I am extremely grateful for World Rowing and its development programmes that have supported me through the last few years.
I have been able to take part in several development training camps, and I made many rowing friends through these opportunities.
These programmes have shown there is great potential from the smaller rowing countries, and I am very proud to have finished as the highest-ranked female African sculler at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
To follow Maike on her journey, check out her Instagram profile. - worldrowing