German rower Oliver Zeidler originally came to prominence in indoor rowing when he won the World Games in Wroclaw in 2017 with a time of 5:42.0 in his first ever indoor race.
His success didn’t come entirely out of the blue, however, as he comes from good rowing stock. Zeidler’s grandfather was part of the famous “Bullenvierer” crew who won gold in the coxed four in the 1972 Munich Olympics, while his aunt is also a two-time Olympic medalist. His father represented Germany in rowing and still coaches him to this day.
His rowing career has gone from strength to strength since that first indoor race. On the water, he competed in the Tokyo Olympics, and is the current reigning World Champion in the Men’s Single Sculls.
On the rowing machine, he followed up his World Games success by becoming the sixth man to ever go under 5:40 for 2000m, when he did 5:38.7 in April 2018. He also won gold at the 2019 World Rowing Indoor Championships in Long Beach, California.
The 2023 World Indoor Rowing Championships in Mississauga, Toronto, February 25–26, sees him return to the world indoor stage for the first time since 2017, so we took the opportunity to sit down with him for a quick chat.
Important things first: How tall are you, and how much do you weigh?
I'm two meters and four centimeters tall (6 ft 7 in). My weight in winter is a bit higher than in the summer. At the moment, I am about 106 kg (234 lb).
What's your sporting background before you started to row?
I was a swimmer before I started to row. For the first two months into the sport, I was just erging actually, and it was after then that I tried it on the water. Before that I had pretty decent scores on the rowing machine because as swimmers, we trained really hard, and I did a lot of endurance exercises and a lot of weightlifting. It was the perfect preparation for indoor rowing.
Do you remember your first workout on a RowErg?
I don't really remember it as it was at a pretty young age. We always had a rowing machine in our basement and my grandfather was there when I used it the first time. I was probably 8 or 9 when he tried to explain the movement to me. This was the first time I sat on a rowing machine but not in a competitive way—just having some kind of cross-training for my swimming.
What does your training look like for the World Indoor Rowing Championships?
We have done a lot of steady state training in the last months. Now towards Toronto, I will try to get more pieces in with higher intensity and higher rates, so I feel comfortable doing the 2k.
How much of your time is spent training on the water versus training on the Concept2 RowErg?
In winter it's around about the same, four training sessions per week in the boat and on the rowing machine. But in the summer, it's much more in the boat than on the rowing machine, while in winter it's more comfortable to train inside on the rowing machine and stay in the movement for rowing.
How do you approach a 2000m race in terms of strategy, and at what drag factor do you row?
We usually do our tests on a 145 drag factor in Germany. When I go on the road, I just try to figure out what kind of drag factor is suitable on the day based on my daily form, but it is always higher in training than I use for the regular tests. I think the approach will be the same in Toronto. So doing a bit less drag than in my training to row smoothly and go out hard and try to keep the pace down.
What does racing 2000 meters on the rowing machine feel like compared to racing 2000 meters on the water?
I have the feeling on the rowing machine, that I can actually do the 110%. On the water it is harder to get through the barrier where you go beyond what you normally can do. So, it is harder on the rowing machine actually, even if it's less time than on the water.
What advice would you give to someone competing at the World Rowing Indoor Championships for the first time?
Oh, that's a good question. I was there only once before in Toronto. It was a lot of fun and I think that was the main part. You should concentrate on the people who are competing. They're very friendly and very cool guys and girls. I really like the community between indoor rowing athletes and this is something you should definitely enjoy when you come to Toronto and compete there. Of course, you want to pull a good score and meet your expectations, but this is I think the second step. I would say this is the major part of competing: just having fun and meeting new interesting people.
What are your hobbies outside of rowing?
As rowers, we do a lot of training, of course, so I go hiking sometimes, a lot of weightlifting, sometimes swimming, cycling, but only indoors. So, this is what I usually do outside of rowing—any sport.
What athletes do you look up to?
There are a lot of role models out there, and I have never decided who was my biggest one. When I started rowing it was always Rob Waddell, especially because he was also very strong on the rowing machine. When I started on the rowing machine, he was definitely one of the role models at that time. He was the world record holder over 2000m. And he's also a very nice guy. I met him at the Tokyo Olympics, and he told me that he was very impressed by my journey so far and it reminded him a bit of his career. So, it was a huge pleasure to hear that from him.
What are some of your favorite workouts?
One of my favorite workouts is three times 2000 meters with about nine minutes rest in between. The other one is a straight 10,000 meters, just keeping the pace up. What I usually do is set the splits to 5000 meters. So, I do the first 5k and then try to beat the time on the next 5k. This is what I usually like to do because this sort of mental game is what I really like about rowing.
And finally, do you have Josh Dunkley-Smith’s record of 5:38.8 in your sights?
Oh, that's a good question. I don't know at the moment, actually. I did a lot of steady state training the last month. I want to do sub 5:40 in Toronto. Of course, with the jet lag and the new environment around me, it will be not that easy because 5:40 is still a very, very huge score. But yeah, that's the goal I set myself and we will see what the result is against the other athletes then.