This Sunday is a very important day for the Germany eight. The flagship of the German Rowing Association (DRV) is contesting the first internationally important competition of the season at the World Cup in Poznań. After the Olympic Games in Tokyo were the last major appearance for helmsman Martin Sauer and five other crew members, the biggest conversion in the boat for many years took place. The prelim was successful, but only in the finale will it become clear to what extent the upheaval is already bearing fruit.
In particular, Jonas Wiesen from Rhineland-Palatinate, Sauer’s successor in the position of helmsman, bears a great deal of responsibility. The 25-year-old from Rhineland-Palatinate has been training at the base of the eights in Dortmund since 2013. Now he has a crucial role in unleashing the potential of his rowing colleagues.
The fact that numerous veterans ended their careers after the silver medal in Tokyo makes Wiesen’s job as a strategist in the boat particularly demanding: “The more experienced the people are, the more the basics have already been defined through the long training together,” he says. At the same time, such a restart would also result in opportunities for new ideas. “When you have a lot of new and highly motivated people, you have the opportunity to break up structures and are not stuck, as is the case in other constellations,” says Wiesen.
Rowers who are part of the crew of the eight have previously prevailed in various trials and tests. But similar to a ball sport, there is much more to a boat than the individual skills of the team members. “We don’t have a team where eight people have exactly the same strengths. The cooperation that has to take place and the team spirit are immensely important,” says Wiesen.
It is therefore extremely important for the helmsman to know his fellow combatants well. And that goes far beyond working together in the rowing boat. Five minutes before and after training in the locker room can be of great importance “to learn how a person handles a certain situation,” says Wiesen.
Joint courses should also not be underestimated. “There we see how the bodies react and how individual athletes deal mentally with setbacks or positive things.” All of this adds up to a wealth of experience that is particularly valuable on the way to major events such as the European Championships at home in Munich in August and the World Championships in Czech Racice is becoming increasingly important in September.
In contrast to the rest of the crew, who usually strictly adhere to the training plans, there are no specific guidelines for the helmsmen as to how they can continue to develop in the best possible way. “Everyone brings different skills and interests to the table here,” says Wiesen. Numerous factors ultimately played together. “Basically, you need a certain amount of experience.”
On the one hand, this means that you can assess how things are going in a heated competition and which strategies the competition is pursuing. In addition – and this distinguishes an outstanding from a good or average helmsman – the sense of people is of particular importance. “You don’t have authority automatically, you work for it. By showing: We work together here.” And if he can convey a credible idea to his crew on how to solve a tricky situation during a race.
Although Wiesen has only been at the helm of the most important German rowing boat since this season, he can look back on a long history in this position. After he started rowing as a schoolboy, it soon became clear that many of his peers were taller and stronger than him, who now measures 1.70 meters and weighs 55 kilos. “I was then used more and more often in the position of helmsman.”
Instead of quarreling, Wiesen quickly saw the merits of this role. Especially since there are not too many helmsmen in Germany, simply because there is a lack of possible uses. Since the coxswain no longer plays a role in the A area since 2017, you can only try to get a place in the eighth in this position. Just like Wiesen, who has completed the usual career path from youngsters to U19s and U23s. Which of course helped to acquire a lot of knowledge, which now serves him at the highest level.
He also benefits from eight years together with his Berlin predecessor Martin Sauer, who previously held this position for 13 years at the base in Dortmund. “As a helmsman, you don’t have that much contact with other helmsmen, and I was very lucky to be able to learn a lot from him,” says Wiesen. Despite all the successes that the eight was able to celebrate during this time – with the Olympic victory in London as the highlight – he naturally tries to go his own way.
A particular challenge is that due to the postponed Tokyo Games, the Olympic cycle up to the Summer Games in Paris 2024 lasts only three years. “Basically, not much has changed in the planning, but it’s not an easy situation for us because we have to build and form a new team,” knows Wiesen: “It takes time, how much exactly, we’ll find out.” The final at the World Cup in Poznań this Sunday will provide the first clue.