The First time I saw Cissi was on a short video during a hard training session at her club the Molndal Rowing Club in Sweden. She was pushing herself harder than any female rower I’ve personally seen before. Right after that I decided to look her up and I was shocked to see she was fairly new to rowing, yet her results showed otherwise. How could someone with barely any experience perform so exceptionally at a Worlds stage? I found it was probably easiest to just ask her about it.
Andras Hordos: You were born and raised in Sweden. How important were sports in your family?
Cissi Velin: I was introduced to kayaking when I was 11 years old. My dad along with my mom was always involved in my sport life and supported me every day. My brother started with kayaking just ayear after me so my whole family was involved in the Kayak club.
AH: I looked up the Velin Family Crest it has 3 ducks in a row? I can’t help but think: Dragonboat, Kayak, Rowing?
CV: It seems that floating on the water is a part of my family heritage, maybe this 3rd duck (rowing) was meant to be!
AH: What do you think of the Viking heritage regarding rowing?
CV: I’m very proud to be Swedish and the Viking heritage is something that always interested me, not only rowing but also their ideology to challenge and conquer. It’s inspiring that I know that Viking blood flows through my veins but I don’t intend to ravish the high seas. I like to think I have their strength to take on something equally as unfamiliar and challenging in the hope of achieving something spectacular.
AH: Did you do any sports in school besides kayaking?
CV: We have only one school in Sweden where you can choose kayaking or rowing. I didn’t want to move so I didn’t train rowing at school. I was doing regular.
AH: You work as a firefighter for the armed forces? How do you have time for training and competing?
CV: I have worked 4 ½ years in the Swedish Armed Forces as I firefighter. It is a great job for me because I have time to train and have days off. Since January this year they have supported me in my training and I’m only working 50% as a firefighter and 50% I can spend on rowing.
AH: Why did you choose the Armed forces?
CV: It was just a coincidence. My friend worked there and she was the only women and she knew that I was interested to become a firefighter. She told me that they are recruiting so I applied.
AH: You lived in Australia. What took you there?
CV: I lived Australia but have been there for only on training camps. I will visit again in November and stay for5 months. They are really lucky on that side of the world to have water all year around. Right now, I am focusing on improving my on-water skills and Australia has a lot of great water and a good tradition of competitive rowing. I also want to challenge myself by being around better rowers to keep me realistic about my goals.
AH: What made you decide to start rowing after Dragonboat and kayaking?
CV: I got in touch with my current coach. And he would like to meet me and do some physicals tests. After one year of convincing I went to him and did all tests.
AH: Indoor rowing vs outdoor rowing? Which one do you like better and why?
CV: I guess you always enjoy more what your best at. It has been a very frustrating process to be out in the single scull doing drills, falling in the water and feeling like a beginner. But as time has gone on I have started finding the joy in being on the water. Now the challenge is not about staying dry but about getting every bit or force out onto the blade to make speed. You can really get lost in your own world out on the water and as I get more comfortable I enjoy it more and more. It’s very addictive.
AH: What does your training look like in a week? What does your sport specific/strength training look like?
CV: Right now, we are focusing on boat work and increasing strength and conditioning. It’s our off season so the sessions are focusing on technique rather than volume and the strength training to develop proper sport specific power. The goal is to continue working to build boat confidence so that I can get more of my power towards moving the boat. We focus on one or two things at a time and really drill it then move onto the next. At this time of the season I want to gain more strength and improve my technique as much as possible.
AH: You own 4 out of 13 records in your age group in rowing, and they are also the World’s best results. What’s next?
CV: The World records were great for my confidence that I have the potential to achieve something in rowing. But they were never the goal! The goal is to be as fast as I can on the water. I think that is mentally and physically harder than a World record and I need to focus all my energy into that.
AH: What’s your PR on the erg and at what height/weight?
6.38 on the Concept2 machine and I’m 185cm (6’-1“), 90kg(198lbs).
AH: Kayaking and Dragonboat are asymmetric movements that mostly focus on the upper body. How hard was it to change your focus to lower body and symmetric rowing?
CV: It was (and still is) a real challenge. Kayak is the complete opposite of rowing so I had to unlearn everything to be able to learn how to stabilize the rowing boat. When I’m fatigued I still revert back to my kayak instinct, which does not make the boat go faster at. But it keeps me thinking and as I get more quality meters out on the water the level of fatigue needs to be higher before I fall back to old habits. This motivates me to practice good strokes and keep focused.
AH: What was/still is the most challenging thing you needed to get used to in rowing?
CV: It’s the application of power. It took me a while to understand that will take than I thought. Also, I struggled with such basics as timing the finish and catch and really feel the speed of the boat.
AH: What is the difference between stability in the Kayak or Dragon boat vs. Rower on the water?
CV: We are really focusing on having control over transferring power to the boat on the blades from the power of the feet. In kayak, we use our knees to stabilize but in rowing if the knees are moving around down the slide it seems to slow the boat run also if I don’t have connection through the feet the boat does not get speed at all!
AH: How do kayaking and canoeing translate to rowing? Pain tolerance, suffering etc.?
CV: I had some really tough sessions on the ergo and also in the boat. Right now, I need to increase my pain tolerance on the erg and while I have continuously improved in the boat, there lot more to go compared to the machine. I think the more I am able to row efficiently the more I will suffer in the boat! It’s a strange motivation but it does motivate me!!
I think the similarity in all sports is the frustration of the highs and lows of sport. It is similar in kayak, canoeing, rowing or any other sport. Trying to be the best can be a hard and frustrating process. The biggest struggle I face daily is that I’m not a very patient person. It’s hard to feel like a beginner and to accept things take time.
AH: Out of Dragonboat, kayak (sprint and marathon), and rowing — which is your favorite and why?
CV: Now it’s rowing. But I have lots of good memories from all of them. I don’t regret that I practiced kayaking or dragon boat instead rowing from the start.
AH: Is your goal Tokyo 2020? What boat? (Single, double, 4, 8? Sculling? Coxed, coxless?)
CV: The Olympics is the ultimate goal and I would like to compete in a boat that gives me the best opportunity to really compete!
AH: Sweden has 2 Olympic medals in rowing (1912 and 1956 men coxed 4), In Rio 2016 there was only one Swedish athlete in rowing: Anna Malvina Svennung in single sculling. In the last World Rowing cup, there were 3 Swedish entries, all singles (M1x, LM1x, LW1x) How hard is the qualification process for you to be able to get to the Olympics in 2020?
CV: Anna Malvina and her coach are a real inspiration and they did an amazing job to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Also, Lassi and his coach (2008-2012) and Frida and her coach (2008-2012) did great projects to qualify and represent Sweden at the Olympics. Right now, the fastest boat goes to the Olympics (if the boat is qualified.) but we will need to hear from the federation about the exact process. My focus is on being as fast as I can be.
AH: Why not kayaking? You seem to be excellent in that? Why is rowing so much more challenging?
CV: I enjoyed kayaking and everything I learned from my time doing it, and also competing but it was time for me to hang up the paddle. Why rowing?? Maybe it’s the Viking blood in me. They didn’t kayak across the oceans, they rowed!
AH: What are your thoughts of the World Rowing Games in Wroclaw? I was really surprised how good you did with your short history with rowing.
CV: Poland was a fantastic experience and it was a really well-organized event. It was great to meet all these competitors that I have followed since I began rowing. It was a nice opportunity to be under real race pressure to see how I reacted and I learned a lot about when to play it safe and when to take risks. It felt great to justify the training I did prior and return knowing that there are a lot of strong men and woman out there!!
AH: What are your recent results and goals for the near future?
CV: Results are hard to quantify when they are learning orientated. As of now it’s about learning more boat skills and build better muscular pathways. Training is back under way after a short break so right now the goal is to develop in the boat as a rower. I’d like to continue to challenge myself and keep having fun (as frustrating as it can be at times)
While I am new to the sport I’m quickly learning that rowers are very supportive of one another, it’s like a family. I’d like to thank the rowing family for making me feel very welcome in the recent years.
AH: Are you coaching nowadays?
CV: I do some coaching on the erg but now my coach trying to get me to coach on the water because he believes if I can coach rowing makes me understand more about rowing and myself.
AH: Who is your coach and who are your idols both in Indoor and Outdoor Rowing?
CV: Right now, I think every rower who get up early in the morning and train and go through all the work it takes to be good are my idol, I have a huge respect for the people who do this. I don’t know many of the top rowers but I watched many videos of Kim Brennan who has obviously put so much time and effort into being the best!
I really idolize those in my training group at Molndal. We have a great team who train hard and have been really supportive of each other. They have taught me a lot and supported me.
Recent years a few athletes from the kayak canoe world joined the top performers in indoor rowing. Just like Cissi, Andrey Ganin from Russia showed some extremely impressive performances on the Concept2 Erg. The reason behind this phenomenon could be that they understand boat sports, arevused to on the water training and the vigorous training regime of both the kayak canoe sport and rowing. It seems endurance, power, and mental fortitude in a competitive environment as a base for rowing is worth a lot and the differences in the movement can be bridged fairly quickly.
There is something about heritage that can make someone to harvest power and drive, that make someone dream bigger than others. Cissi is a clear representation of her lands Warrior woman who not just lived there, but also rowed the greatest waters of the World. Cissi, we wish you to reach your close and distant goals equally just as your ancestors reached new lands.