In the Canadier he has won everything there is to win. Sebastian Brendel (34) was invincible for a long time, the undisputed king of the paddle. The man from Potsdam won Olympic gold three times, was world champion 13 times and European champion 15 times. But the canoeist still hasn’t had enough. His goal is the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
And getting there will be quite a tour de force. Not just because it’s about the Olympics. And not just because it’s supposed to be Brendel’s fourth. Because although he has experienced almost everything in his career, a completely new challenge awaits him in the next two years.
Brendel has now dropped out of the one in which he won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016. At the games in Tokyo he experienced a disaster with the completely surprising exit in the semifinals. “In one, I was among the best in the world for ten years, I could only lose. The two is also a change of stimulus,” he says: “It’s more fun with two.”
In 2016 in Rio he won Olympic gold in a pair with Jan Vandrey. He has been kneeling in the Canadian with Conrad Scheibner (26) from Berlin since 2021, and they didn’t have much time until Tokyo. It was still enough for bronze. Since then, Brendel has focused on the twosome.
But they changed the Olympic program in this boat class of all places. Instead of over 1000 meters, it is now only over 500 meters for gold in Paris. And for half the distance Brendel has to learn how to canoe almost all over again. For comparison: In athletics, a good 400-meter sprinter will never become a world-class sprinter. It’s not much different with canoeing.
Scheibner honestly: “That’s the difficulty. It’s the same with us. As a 500 meter rider you can also do a good 1000. But you can’t necessarily do a good 500 if you can do a good 1000. A lot has to be done in training.”
And Brendel is an endurance specialist. In 2013 he won World Championship gold in the non-Olympic 5,000 meters in Canadian singles, this year he won silver over the long distance. “Of course, the 1000 meters suit us better, we got used to it last year,” says Brendel. “Now we have to see that we gain more experience over the 500 meters so that we can keep getting better, every race helps us there.”
Halfway through this year’s World Cup opener, it was only enough for sixth place. They paddled fourth at the World Championships, and at the home European Championships in Munich, the duo made it onto the podium for the first time with bronze. “We had to train a lot more sprints, ride more intervals. It’s very exhausting, a tough time,” says Scheibner. “We fought each other more and more.”
In the past, they often ran the race distance or even more up to 1500 meters during interval training, but now only distances of up to a maximum of 300 meters are announced, but 20 times in a row with a 30-second break.
Because the 1000 meter race is very different from the 500 meter race. Brendel knows exactly what he’s talking about: “Actually, I come from the 500 meters in the juniors. But in recent years, the frequency has leveled off over 1000 meters – and now we have to try to do ten more beats per minute.” Over 1000 meters you drive around 60 beats per minute, over 500 meters then around 70 Brendel: “That’s quite a difference. At the higher frequency, the hits have to be just as perfect.”
Brendel sees relearning the canoe age as a big challenge: “Of course you have to change a few habits. It’s also a change of stimulus, that you don’t become so sluggish, rediscover fire, develop a little more passion when you try new things. Hopefully it will work.”
The canal sprint is still on the agenda in Potsdam for the weekend. After that, Brendel and Scheibner have at least a four-week break. Preparations will start again in September – with Paris 2024 firmly in mind.
“2023 is a very important year with the home World Cup in Duisburg,” says Brendel. “We want to get the quota for the Olympics there.” Because Paris will very likely be his last major sporting highlight. After bronze in the two and the end of the one semi-final in Tokyo, he says: “It definitely didn’t go according to my wishes.” And announces all the more combative for Paris: “We want to attack again at the front.” And that about half the distance.