Augustin Maillefer: "Lausanne 2020, a driving force for sport and well-being"
Lausanne native Augustin Maillefer is an international rower who has already participated in three Olympic Games: the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, the Olympic Games London 2012 and Rio 2016. He is currently preparing for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. As a sports science Master’s student, Augustin is lending his experience and knowledge to help young Swiss people as part of his role as an ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020. He answered some questions for us.
When did you first start rowing?
I started kind of by chance. It was my brother, Jérémie, who started at a friend's club and he suggested I cox; I was 12 or 13, I did two or three races and told myself: "I can row"! This happened completely naturally. At first, there was no ambition involved. But the Lausanne Sport Aviron club is very competitive, so I started training, first twice a week, with friends, then more and more, and by the time I was 18, I was training twice a day.
Your progress allowed you to compete in the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010...
When I first heard talk of the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, I didn't really know what it was. It was my coach who told me: "Hey, you're the Swiss junior skiff champion, you'll be able to go to the Youth Olympic Games!" The revealing thing about the Youth Olympic Games is that qualification took place over the standard distance of 2,000m, while the races in Singapore took place over 1,000m. The Swiss Rowing Federation wasn't looking to select a young person to stand out at the Youth Olympic Games, but someone who would be a good bet for the future. The Federation wanted to select the Swiss champion over two kilometres, since Singapore 2010 was not a goal in itself, more of a means of promoting what would come later. I think that this a good reflection of the spirit of the Youth Olympic Games in general.
What are your memories of that first Olympic experience?
I loved pretty much everything there. I don't know where to start. It was the first time I had been to Asia, and my first Olympic experience, the Village, the accreditation process, the combination with other sports... I loved the competition. After the competition, there were still a few team events, where the countries were mixed. It was really fun. This allowed me to meet people who I still see today at international regattas. There was a huge media presence, I gave a lot of interviews. There was also an enormous number of volunteers; it was quite incredible in Singapore. The people were very committed, very friendly and really motivated. That is without a doubt my resounding memory of the Youth Olympic Games. Young people, as well as adults, were so involved! Amazing.
Two years later, you were at the London Games...
My brother Jérémie was in the quadruple sculls that qualified for the 2012 Games. But he was injured the following year, and as I was among the best rowers, I replaced him. The Olympic Games is completely different, but I had experience from Singapore 2010, which was an excellent rehearsal. Our competition was difficult on Dorney Lake in Eton. We finished 12th and we didn't have great races, but I was 19 years old and I was really happy to be there and to be following my path.
What was your role in the vote for the host city of the Youth Olympic Games 2018?
In July 2013 in Lausanne, I was asked to present the envelope containing the name of Buenos Aires, after the IOC members' vote at an Extraordinary Session. I handed it to the President, Jacques Rogge. He took some time to brief me, which was good. I was just there to carry an envelope and I was a little bit lost. He advised me not to climb the stairs too quickly. I think I must have climbed them at 2 kilometres per hour, which really made the attendees laugh...
What was your route to the Olympic Games Rio 2016?
Training, training, training. I was world under-23 champion in 2013 and in 2014; and the following year we qualified for the quadruple sculls at the 2016 Games. For us, Brazil was the climax of a four-year cycle. We finished 7th, but we were a little bit disappointed. We had a chance of winning something. There was nothing in it, just a few tenths of a second. We could have taken the place of the Poles or the Australians, who went on to the final and finished on the podium.
At that time, were you already committed to Lausanne 2020?
I was asked to be an Ambassador in autumn 2018. I was already committed to the Athletes' Commission. In the role of Ambassador, I see opportunities come and go, the needs of suchand such a school, or people that contact me directly, then I talk with the Organising Committee. I recently took part in school fitness tests in the Canton of Vaud. They wanted to start a discussion with elite athletes, then show the results so that the students can ask questions: "But how...? What should I work on in this sport?" Emulation is necessary because you have to face the facts: I did the same tests ten years ago and I think the standard has dropped at schools. That's what I saw, the same with regard to attitude. There is a tremendous amount of work to do...
For that reason, is it important for you to share your experience?
Yes, exactly. I think there's value in that. Especially as young people are the product of our society. Suddenly, they're not able to run for 12 minutes, while when I was at school, everyone could run for that time, even those who were overweight used to try. Today, 12 minutes seems like an eternity to them. They walk and they don't see the problem. You get the feeling that things are changing. So, we are trying to get them to move, trying to make things interesting. I also visited a school to do a presentation. The request was specific: "Can you talk to them about nutrition and sleep and inspire them to dream?" I will gladly continue to respond to their requests based on my availability. And then there are other Ambassadors - we're able to help each other with the various initiatives to be carried out.
Do you think that Lausanne 2020 can help change things?
Definitely. Just because it's a very visible event, it's accessible and it allows the population to participate in one way or another, with the mini-games and things like that. It could provide a push in the right direction. Then there are things that you can delve further into, but that's another matter. For example, I'm not a great speaker, but I study sports science, I'm doing my Master’s, and there, you can see that sport, health and well-being are linked, that there's a lot to do. Lausanne 2020 is a way of implementing all that. It's cool that we have these Youth Olympic Games. In a way it's an excuse to showcase exercise and well-being. But it's a very good excuse, and it doesn't have to stop there. It's just one step.
How do you juggle your preparations for the Tokyo Games and your role as an Ambassador?
By February next year, during the Youth Olympic Games, I will be on a full training schedule, but I'll make myself available to share my experience with the young athletes. We're going to try and qualify for the men's fours for the 2020 Games. Technically, we're not quite ready, we need more chemistry, but we're working on it and it will come. In particular there will be the European Championships at home, in Lucerne. In the meantime, I'm really thriving in my role as Ambassador. I think that it's great for the young people of our country.