Et went according to plan for Oliver Zeidler for a long time. After 1250 meters he passed the competition and was the first to row towards the finish line. It looked like gold, the only title at the European Championships for the German Rowing Association. Then a gust caught him and, instead of saving his strength, he had to resist. “That broke my neck.”
On the right, Dutchman Melvin Twelaar came closer and closer with powerful punches and finally overtook Zeidler. “At some point,” he said, “my arms turned blue,” and he even slipped out of the medal ranks in the final meters. The third place of Alexandra Föster from Meschede in the women’s singles on the Olympic regatta course in Munich-Oberschleißheim was the only precious metal in the Olympic boat classes for the DRV.
Lots of work ahead
Zeidler’s final was the last rowing competition of the title fights – and it should have been the highlight, a golden one – 50 years after his grandfather Johann Färber’s Olympic victory at the same place. It would have been a nice story, and it would have lent weight to his criticism at the start of the European Championships. His criticism of the funding system in Germany in general and specifically of the rowing association and sports director Mario Woldt.
He accepted the fact that the pressure was a little greater than it already was because of the ambition to imitate his grandfather – and failed. “In addition to the physique, the head also has to play along,” said Brigitte Bielig, head trainer in the German Rowing Association. But Zeidler will “get over it” and be in top form again at the World Championships in Racice at the end of September. In any case, the defending champion knows what he has to work on. Less on the head, more on the physique in the last 200 meters, he says.
Just under an hour after the race, the 26-year-old still seemed taken by Frankfurt’s RG Germania. But the forces were enough to add more verbally. There had been no talks during the EM days between Woldt and Bielig on the one hand and Zeidler on the other. But there was enough talk about each other for the World Champion to know that the two had fundamentally different opinions.
Accusing him of not being able to judge “shows that the management position in sport has no idea at all,” said Zeidler on ARD. It clarifies “the communication problem” and the “lack of trust” between the sports leadership and the athletes.
The fronts seem hardened. However, the President of all people shows understanding for Zeidler and now wants to try to moderate the conflict after the European Championships “in order to find common solutions,” says Moritz Petri. Because there is “a lot of truth in the criticism”. Zeidler “spoke from his soul in many points”, just not in the assessment of Woldt.
A replacement of the sports director does not necessarily lead to a different, better picture of the result: After Zeidler’s criticism, Petri spoke to the athletes’ representative on the Executive Committee, Richard Schmidt. The former rower sat in the successful aft boat of recent years, won Olympic gold in London and silver at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo and apparently confirmed that there was dissatisfaction among the athletes.
No special regulation
It is primarily about the centralization of competitive sport. This was decided in 2018, but was initially suspended due to the corona pandemic. This year the project, which is non-negotiable for both Woldt and Bielig, was pushed ahead. But that caused resentment.
From 2023 everything would have to be subordinated to rowing, said Bielig. Studies, private life and also personal well-being. “There will be no special arrangement,” said the head coach. There are only exceptions for single rowers, i.e. Zeidler and Föster.
It’s not the first time that the Zeidler training group and the sporting association leadership have clashed. Those responsible accuse Heino Zeidler, who trains his son Oliver, of cooking his own soup too much and not sharing his methods and findings. However, Zeidler is not an official DRV trainer either, but has so far only received a small fee that compensates for his loss of salary. The policeman has reduced his working hours to have more time for training with his son.
In this context, it is said that there have been repeated threats that this will soon be over. Woldt denied this in the conversation. “Oliver has the environment here that enables him to perform at his best. We’re going along with it.” And Bielig also confirmed that it should stay that way. In the end, she struck a conciliatory note. “We will seek dialogue and find a good way,” she is certain. Zeidler sees things a little differently at the moment.