Czech rower Ondřej Synek is a four-times world champion in the single sculls, the last three of which were consecutive victories. You might think then that he would be confident about the forthcoming Olympics, but you’d be wrong.
Having been forced into silver at both Beijing and London, Synek is careful not to tempt fate. “Everything is looking good and I am keeping to my training plan,” Synek told RowGlobal. ‘It’s all about keeping my focus to get back on top.” He is referring of course to his surgery in February of last year and the ‘health troubles’ that then proceeded to plague him over the winter months. “After the world cup in Lucerne, I was aware that although I was in good shape, racing was proving a problem. I couldn’t find my perfect stroke” he remembered.
Although the Czech athlete is still the favourite for the single sculls at Rio due to his recent and not to mention consistent successes on the world stage, the hulking threat of current Olympic champion Mahé Drysdale cannot go unnoticed. Their healthy rivalry (the pair are friends off the water) can be dated back as far as 2005 and Synek is clearly grateful for it. He explains: “Mahe is good motivation to keep getting stronger and to not give up.”
There is the distinct impression from Synek, not unusual for driven athletes such as himself on the cusp of a momentous victory, that time not spent training is shrouded in guilt as it could ultimately be detrimental to winning that elusive gold. Synek muses: “I think I can be successful,” – going on to acknowledge the tricky nature not only of his chosen sport but of the Olympics – “A lot of things need to fall into place on the day, or seven minutes to be precise. Everyone wants to win and many have the self-belief required. It’s anybody’s race at the end of the day and the Olympics is always full of surprises.”
It’s always interesting to note the power of the mind behind great sportsmen and women, particularly in the realm of the single scull. “I think the single is the most difficult event in rowing,” said the 33 year old. “Nobody helps you when you are exhausted – you are truly alone out there. That being said, if I am tired, my technique oddly tends to be better.”
Although universally praised for his technical ability, Synek believes there is always plenty of room for self-improvement. “I think the perfect stroke is a combination of many things, with the key three being power, technique and the psyche,” he explained. “I am not sure that I’ve mastered them yet! My coach and I are always trying to marry good technique with sheer power.”
On the subject of the relentless training he is diplomatic: “Some days are difficult of course but most I really enjoy.” Days off are clearly few and far between but treasured all the more for the opportunity to spend time with daughter Alice, who was born in 2010; a year that happened to coincide with what he considers his best season on the water.
Having taken up the sport aged 13 in his home town of Brandýs after some encouragement from his cousin, Synek explains the camaraderie that drew him into the sport. “I was not that taken with the rowing itself at first,” he reminisces. “Instead I really revelled in having such a great group of friends there. In fact, I’m still in touch with them all.”
The turning point came around the age of 17 as he was beginning to reap the rewards of his commitment to the sport. “It became an impulse to then train harder and aim to be as successful as my predecessor Václav Chalupa. In 2002, I actually went further than this and beat him for the first time.”
It is safe to say that Ondřej Synek’s sights are now firmly fixed on Rio. He speaks of crossing the finish line in 2012: “I knew that it wasn’t my day and Mahe was simply stronger. At first I was sad but this sentiment was soon replaced with joy that I had still won silver in the sport I love.”
As Rio creeps closer, motivation is solely for gold, especially as it is not certain at the moment that he will continue on to Tokyo.
“It’s not easy to train and race constantly over 12 years” Synek admitted. A gold medal would surely be a just reward for one of sculling’s great ambassadors.