by Alessio Sartori (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text
I was born and brought up as a sculler, because there were no other rowers of my age at the club I joined. So, my coach Lorenzo Gattuso put me out in a single; this was the start of my (all-too-common) love-hate relationship with this boat class.
Italian Coxless Quad at Sydney Olympics 2000. From the left: Agostino Abbagnale, Alessio Sartori, Rossano Galtarossa and Simone Raineri.
Despite all of that though, learning how to single allowed me to discover the many good things about sculling alone. This way, I developed a special connection with the boat, being able to move as one with it. This connection was then transferred into larger boats – doubles and quads.
Be the best sculler in the world
Throughout my career, I have had a number of ‘rewards’ in sculling (ed. amongst them 4 World titles and 3 Olympic medals – Gold at Sydney 2000, Bronze in Athens 2004 and Silver in London 2012) as well as testing myself with sweep rowing and its wooden blades. Yet I do prefer to scull, as it seems a more ‘refined’ stroke, if you will excuse the term. To me, the technical movement is more elegant and it requires a greater sensitivity from the athlete.
Rossano Galtarossa and Alessio Sartori, Bronze in Athens 2004. Photo by Mimmo Perna
Compared to sweep oar, there is a significant difference. Having to control two blades, not one, demands a more finely developed sensory ability. The body’s movements must be symmetrical, because the blades need to enter the water at the same time and at the same height. It’s not easy, but the feeling when your body finally becomes an extension of the boat, achieving a perfect synchronicity, is indescribable.
These days, I teach rowing to children of 10 to 14 years, at the Fiamme Gialle club. It is odd to find myself on the other side. I do find myself giving the same advice I was given years ago by my coaches, and thanks to them I have become the athlete you know. Honestly I don’t consider myself a coach; I prefer to think of myself as a ‘rowing instructor’. Even my coaches’ advice to always start with the sculling stroke lives on.
Alessio Sartori with the youngsters he coaches at Fiamme Gialle
Sculling allows you to develop evenly, since there is a single, even drive through the arc of the stroke. In sweep oar, on the other hand, there has to be some rotation. It is essential that kids start to row in a single, so that they learn to develop a symbiosis with the boat. This sensitivity can then be transferred to any other boat type. Then, in sweep oar you have to work that much harder, because the feel is acheived with you opposite partner. And if you don’t find it straight away, the boat will never move.
I wanted to try my hand at sweep oar (ed. winning two silver medals at the World championships), because an athlete must push beyond their limits. To be a well-rounded rower, you have look beyond your own specialism. I was able to instill the same feelings from sculling into rowing sweep oar. But I was lucky, because I was rowing with extraordinary atheletes who were strong, motivated and serious; I learned so much from them. Many of them should be taken as good examples and by anyone.