MAIKE Diekmann has made a spectacular rise in rowing and has gone from absolute beginner to African champion in just five years.
She first started rowing in late 2014 when she was helping out a social race while studying at Grahamstown University and making an instant impression.
Her team won by far, and after the race, the university coach advised her to take the sport seriously.
Diekmann, who turned 27 on Monday, heeded this advice, made steady progress and began to beat the best rowers in South Africa in 2016, finishing third in two and fourth in two at the SA National Championships.
In September of the same year she also took part in her first European event, the u23 World Championship in Rotterdam, where she finished 22nd overall.
In 2017 Diekmann graduated with honors in geology, but decided to take a break from her studies in order to realize her new dream of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games.
She got a boost when she applied for and received a scholarship at Olympic Solidarity and first partnered with her personal coach Grant Dodds in 2018.
Diekmann began a rigorous training program of up to 200 km per week that kept her through thick and thin, but it was not easy.
“There were days, weeks, and months when I trained on my own and I needed to motivate myself and think about making it to Tokyo to pass these training sessions. I often wanted to give up and thought why I was doing this, but I’ve always told myself that these tough sessions are the most important and I was determined to achieve my goal, ”she said.
Her sacrifice was worth it, as her results steadily improved and she now regularly landed among the medals at South African races and also made an impression on the other side.
In September 2018 she reached the 16th place overall at the World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria; in April 2019 she won her first international medal in third place in Piediluco, Italy; in July she was ninth overall at the Rowing World Cup in Rotterdam; and in September she finished 16th overall at the World Championships in Linz, Austria.
In October 2019 she was in top form and ready for the African Championships in Tunisia, which also served as qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games.
She used her moment in style, winning the gold medal in the women’s singles final, finishing more than 20 seconds ahead of the second placed rower.
She had achieved her dream and when she received her medal on the podium and sang the Namibian anthem, she was relieved and proud.
“I had achieved my goal of standing there singing my national anthem and realizing that after all those long days of hard training everything suddenly made sense, and then I felt so happy that I had made it.” She said.
Covid-19 struck in 2020, ruining her plans to compete internationally, but she trained from home on her own and with her dedication and determination kept up her high standards.
In November she took part in the Virtual African Indoor Championships for the first time this year and easily won the gold medal again with a 38 second lead over the second placed rower. She qualified for the World Rowing Virtual Indoor Championships in February 2021, but could not compete due to problems with the internet connection.
Diekmann decided to definitely start on her own rowing machine and set a new personal best that was almost nine seconds faster than her previous best and would have earned her the silver medal if she had started.
In June, however, she showed how far she had come when she finished sixth at the World Rowing Cup III in Sabaudia, Italy.
She made history by qualifying for the A-final for the first time after finishing second in her semi-finals.
Diekmann will compete in the women’s singles scull on the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo. The preliminary runs start on Friday, July 23rd, the finals are scheduled for Friday, July 30th.