How long have you been rowing, and how did you get into it?
“For 16 years. I previously rowed at the Sakarya Rowing and Fenerbahçe Clubs. I’ve been at Galatasaray for the last five years. I played soccer for two years before I took up rowing in high school at the recommendation of a friend.”
You’re part of the first rowing team to represent Turkey in the Olympics. How do you feel?
“Competing in the Olympics is every athlete’s dream. But doing so in rowing is quite challenging in Turkey. In fact, it seemed impossible to many, as you couldn’t get an Olympics visa. Our success broke the taboo. It’s a wonderful feeling to be a ‘first’ in the history of the sport you love.”
How did you manage to keep training after your teammate Enes Kuşku was stabbed?
“Enes and I had great rapport, both on the boat and socially. What happened devastated all of us. After the doctors said Enes couldn’t compete in the Olympics, our trainer got in touch with the Turkish Rowing Federation. They got to work trying to find the athlete who would be the best fit for me. In the end they decided on our team captain, Cem Yılmaz.”
Rowing teams train really early in the morning. Was it tough getting used to this discipline?
“The first few years were really challenging. But it becomes easier to deal with difficulties when you love what you do.”
Is there one opponent you especially want to defeat?
“We have some experience racing against the same teams we’ll compete against in the Olympics. So there are a few people I’ve set my eyes on.”
What thoughts cross your mind when you grab the oars?
“Right before the race begins, I think about all the challenges I experienced during my training. Because those challenges have to have a payoff. Then I think about my family, my friends and all the people who supported me. Then I pray and wait for the referee’s command.”
Is there a song you hum or a mantra you repeat to yourself when rowing?
“You don’t get much of a chance to talk during the race, since your heart’s racing and you have to control your breathing. But my teammate and I will use motivating words like ‘Come on!’ ‘Now!’ and ‘Attack!’ two or three times during a race.”
There’s been a great deal of concern regarding the level of water pollution where the Olympic races will be held. How does this affect you?
“I hear there’s a high level of pollution, but when doing outdoor sports you sometimes encounter problems due to reasons that are out of your control. There isn’t all that much we can do other than contend with the polluted waters.”
The rowing competitions are held from Aug 6-13.