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13 July 2020, 17:34

With Pride in Heart: Ekaterina Karsten: Queen of the Single Sculls

Ekaterina Karsten celebrated her first major success in 1990. Back then the athlete who performed under her maiden name of Khadatovich won the world champion among juniors. In the final race the winner was determined by a photo finish. The Belarusian was less than a tenth of a second ahead of Bulgarian Rumyana Neykova. The same situation repeated later, in the final race at the Olympic Games in Sydney where the athlete coached by Anatoly Kvyatkovsky also managed to get ahead of the formidable Bulgarian. By 1991, the Belarusian had become a three-time champion of the USSR and won a bronze medal of the world championships in doubles sculls partnering with Saria Zakirova from Ukraine. In 1992, Ekaterina Karsten made her Olympic debut in the quadruple sculls and won a bronze medal together with Antonina Zelikovich, Tatiana Ustyuzhanina and another Belarusian Elena Khloptseva. This medal was the only one for the quad sculls team and the first of five for Ekaterina Karsten, a native of Krupki District, who was later dubbed Catherine the Great by journalists.

After failures in the first years the future two-time Olympic champion was thinking of moving to Russia, but in the end she stayed at home. The conditions to train for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games were created, and the conflict was settled. The seventh place at the 1995 World Championships was a pass for the Olympics.

At the Olympic Games, Canadian Silken Laumann was considered an odds-on favorite to capture a gold medal. Dane Trina Hansen was also among favorites. But the Belarusian beat everyone. In the semifinals, she outsmarted the Canadian, imitating fatigue at the end of the race on the advice of her coach and adding in the decisive race 250 meters before the finish.

Four years later in Sydney, the Belarusian again had no equal, winning the second gold in her career. Previously, there were no two-time Olympic champions in sovereign Belarus. She also won a silver medal in Athens 2004 and bronze in Beijing 2008. After the Olympic Games in China, Ekaterina Karsten became a full cavalier of the Order of the Fatherland.

Ekaterina Karsten announced her retirement from sport at a press conference at the National Olympic Committee of Belarus in August 2019.

Mrs Karsten, the World Rowing Federation held the Fantasy Cup competitions on its website. Those were virtual competitions during which fans chose the best athletes. You were second to none in the women's single sculls.

It is really great that I am still remembered as an athlete. Frankly speaking, however, there are more important goals for me at present. I pay closer attention to the development of rowing in Belarus. I supervise athletes under 18. It is a very valuable experience for me.

How do you assess the training conditions for young athletes?

The conditions are perfect, on a par with the world's best. The only thing our athletes have to do is to train, make progress and produce results.

We have always had young talents. We do have them today. Our athletes, however, produce results at the junior and youth competitions only, but lose momentum at the senior level. One of our overriding tasks is to make sure our talented athletes perform well in the elite circuit.

A lot of modern sports facilities have been built in the country over the last two decades. Among them is a regatta course in Brest.

Our athletes as well as canoe sprint athletes demonstrate great results in the international arena. The country's authorities decided to reward us and build an up-to-date sports facility in Brest. It is a top-notch regatta course. The infrastructure is great. Everything is in close vicinity: a hotel, a gym. The regatta course has already hosted European companionships and the world's youth competitions.

Olympic gold is the ultimate goal and the final destination for many athletes. Having reached this goal, many athletes retire. It was not the case with you, as you did not finish your career after the success in Atlanta...

I was 24 years old back then, and I didn't even think of quitting sports. I remember very well that after the successful performance in the 1996 Olympics finals, I went back to training the very next day, starting to prepare for the Sydney Olympics. In 1998 I took a break due to the birth of my daughter. But afterwards I resumed training. I really enjoyed sports, rowing. It so happened that it was both a hobby and an enjoyable job for me. This was the key to a long career.

Who was your main challenger in those days?

My rivalry with Rumyana Neykova from Bulgaria lasted the longest. We were competing with each other since we were kids. She would not get around me, remained in fractions of a second behind, like at the Sydney Olympics. It was a long story. As a result, she managed to beat me at the Beijing Olympics, where I got a bronze medal. Last year at the 2019 World Rowing Cup Plovdiv, we had a very nice conversation. There is no hostility between us two. In rowing this is not the case.

Being an outstanding athlete you most certainly received many proposals to change citizenship.

When my husband and I changed the place of residence and moved to Germany, there were enough offers of this kind. They promised a lot at once. But all this ceased to matter when I received an invitation to continue performing for the Belarusian national team. I accepted this invitation with great pleasure. It mattered a lot for me.

Despite the outstanding results in the Belarusian and world sports, you stayed immune to the trappings of fame.

I did not fall out over the fame that came to me. I always knew that it would not do good to me or even the most outstanding people. There are many examples in world sports that prove it. In any situation, it is important to remain human.

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