BLAST FROM THE PAST – 2004 interview with Olympic GOLD medalist JOE JACOBI

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During the build up to the 2004 Olympic I had my own athlete website and I just found all the old documents!!!  Including my theories on racing, training, interviews with athletes/coaches and I want to share them with you.

In this interview Olympic gold medalist Joe Jacobi talks about his career, the pressures of being an elite athlete, canoe design, C2 partnerships, identifying physical strengths and weakness, plus the mental side of racing. . .  Today Joe Jacobi is CEO of the USA Canoe/Kayak’s and they are hosting the 2014 World Championships at Deep Creek, Washington in just a few days time!  ENJOY 🙂

2004 interview – A moment with Olympic gold Medalist Joe Jacobi

Joe Jacobi is a member of the USA Senior Team and has been for 19 years. During this time, Joe has represented his country on the international circuit in both C1 and C2. He paddled C1 at the 1986 Junior World Championships in Spittal, Austria, alongside ex-GB Team-members Gareth Marriott, Heather Corrie, David Crosbee and even his current coach, Yves Narduzzi from France!

Joe progressed through the international ranks to win a Gold Medal at the 1992 Olympics with C2 partner, Scott Strausbaugh. Joe is one of the most successful Canoe paddlers from the USA and widely respected within the sport as one of the most experience racers.

I asked Joe a few questions, to try and get a better understanding of what made him a world-class elite athlete and Olympic medalist. 

BASICS

Race weight = 160 pounds

Height = 5 feet 7 inches

Paddle length = 57 ½ inches

Describe the fittings in your boat = Minicell foam pedestal. Knee-to-shin foam knee cups with double straps (across thighs and front of knees.)

BECOMING AN ELITE ATHLETE

Stuart McIntosh : Many athletes reach a point where a decision must be made as to how they can continue to improve. Most would ideally live next to a training site, with an endless supply of money and time to train. In Britain, the majority of paddlers choose to move to Nottingham for regular access to whitewater, and try to balance training with university or full-time work. The US is so big, is there one area that Slalom Canoeists centralise around?

Joe Jacobi : Not long ago, I felt it was pretty difficult to go far in our system without having some experience or appreciation for the training environment in the Washington, DC area. So much that has affected our program has happened there and the intensity was (and is) so high, you didn’t necessarily have to like it but at least respect it. I guess I felt a little bit the same about Nottingham and the British system. But now, more important than “Where you are,” is “How you are.” No matter your training base, you have to find advantages about your home environment whether they are geared towards quality of water, competition, weather conditions, coaching, or perhaps just “balance” in your life.

SM : When you were at that point, what choices did you make or what path did you take on your way to making the US Team?

JJ : I was very fortunate to be born in Washington, DC, and come into the slalom scene right at a time when Bill Endicott was wanting to “Reload the artillery” (mid-1980’s.) I had the Lugbills, the Hearns, the Hallers, and Bill himself, among several others giving me great opportunities to be a part of the slalom community. I always tell people that my early workouts on the Potomac River were like playing basketball with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird while being coached by Phil Jackson. So my “path” to the National Team was a bit two-fold:

  1. 1. Bill suggested to get into the C2 early to start getting the experience of the top level international racing early. Even though my goals were geared towards racing the C1, our program was so deep in the mid and late 1980s. Bill told me about the Lugbills’ experience racing C2 at the 1975 Worlds and the impact it had on their C1 careers. Our team was pretty wide open in C2 in 1987. I started training in January of that year, made the team, and raced in the Worlds at Bourg St. Maurice that July. Incredible experience!
  1. I wanted to put everything into my preparation and have no questions at the finish line of a team trials, Worlds, or any other race, wondering if there was something more I could have done to be more prepared. Of course now, with a family and the accompanying responsibilities, I like a lot of balance in my life at the start-line.

QUICK ONES…?

SM : Which was your favourite site in the World to race on and why?

JJ : I still have yet to find a place that offers more fantastic sensations of whitewater slalom than Bourg St. Maurice. Looking forward to the World Cup Final there later this summer.

SM : Which site did you hate paddling at?

JJ : I don’t think I’ve ever been to a major domestic or international race and hated the venue.

SM : Did you prefer to race or train?

JJ : I am a process-person and always imagined myself more to the training side and even when I am finished racing, I do imagine training for fitness and fun. But lately, I always find myself REALLY looking forward to the race!.

BOAT DESIGN

SM : Choosing a boat is extremely important and sometimes a very hard thing for people to do. Most base their opinion on the way it ‘feels’ when paddled. You’ve paddle C1 and C2 at an international level and must have tested a huge number of boats.  What process did you go through when testing a boat to find out if it was better?

JJ : Starting my third season with Matt now in the C2, it’s been pretty interesting to observe people’s choice of C2 designs. The Hochshorners’ effect on the C2 category feels a little like the Lugbill/Hearn effect on the C1s back in the ‘80s – if they designed a boat, you paddled it. And, there are a lot of Vajda C2s in the start-gate of any World Cup now – all of them are incarnations of the 2000 Hoksi that took the Gold in Sydney. I always figured that with all the improvement Matt and I needed to make in a short amount of time, racing the Vajda Hoski boats would make the choice simple, we’d have great “role models” on the river, and we’d start implementing our own touches on the boat via our style as we kept improving.

As far as my choice in C1s went while I was racing that discipline, I really dragged my feet moving into the spinnier new generation of boats. I regret not switching up designs before the ’99 Worlds and especially before our Olympic Trials in 2000. I even remember Justin Boocock prodding me along saying the new boats were SO much easier than what I was paddling (the Super Glide.) I just thought the adjustment period would take too long. I was wrong.

SM : Have you ever considered designing boats?

JJ : I like working closely with boat designers and I think I can speak fairly specifically to what I like and don’t like in a boat, but I am not a true designer at heart. I am distributing boats now for Vajda and often have to help people select boats that fit their style, ability, and goals. To that end, I really like how our sport allows athletes within the rules to make choices that blend personal philosophy with high performance. It becomes less about the “right way” and more about “your way.”

SM : What are the 5 most important attributes you consider when designing a boat?

JJ : Good question and I’ll see if I can come up with 5. Let me preface all this by saying that when I came back to the C2 in 2002 after being out of that boat for 10 years, I was just blown away by how EASY these boats are too paddle now! I don’t know if ease is an attribute, but I’m counting it as number one. Second, I like acceleration out of the turn. All of these C2s spin like crazy but who can move them out the turns. Third, along the same lines, traction (not sliding) out the turns – feeling like the stern is following the bow out of a turn. Fourth attribute would be forgiveness. I like design attributes that make it easier to correct mistakes – as long as we’re all still paddling short of “perfection,” there are going to be mistakes. Correcting those mistakes quickly and early are still a huge part of high performance today. Final attribute – fun. Look, if these boats weren’t so fun to paddle, I’m not sure I’d still be racing at this level.

SM : Do the rivers you race on affect your choice of design?

JJ : In 1992, Scott Strausbaugh and I designed our Olympic C2 boat, the Patriot, with our teammates and friends, Horace Holden and Wayne Dickert (this team would represent the US at the 1996 Olympic Games on the Ocoee.) Certainly the course in La Seu d’Urgell was a huge influence on the boat but as important was trying to design boats for a “little” C2 team. All the good C2 shapes in the early shapes were geared towards the bigger team so that was a factor for us – as well as the river.

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WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL C2 PARTNERSHIP?

SM : There are many attributes that I feel can help make a successful Slalom Canoeist, including the ability to race, physical conditioning, training, boat feel, experience of different rivers, individuality, time on whitewater and positive attitude. But being part of a partnership with another paddler must be very hard, and massive arguments must occur. I remember watching a Polish C2 crew repeatedly punch each other for nearly 10 minutes!

What attributes do you feel an athlete must have to become the best? And which ones specifically make a successful C2 paddler?

JJ : Ultimately, this has always been the most fascinating aspect of racing C2. First, some chemistry between the two athletes or just some natural ability to work together goes a long way. I do not believe it to be an “Advantage” if you are a “brothers” team. The non-brother teams usually have to work harder to get to know one another and synch-up in styles, but their partnerships tend to have more spirit and be more dynamic. The Haller brothers would be the biggest exception to this statement but generally, think “Addison/Forgues,” “Simek/Rohan,” “Jiras/Mader,” or “Stanischefski/Kolamanski” and you get the idea. The Hoschorner brothers are incredible paddlers but their disposition is simply “brotherly.”

Second, I think like any relationship, you work to grow in any aspect of your life, you need to find ways to keep the work interesting, creative, and opportunities to be apart. Since Matt and I live in different places, this happens naturally for us. When we arrive at training camps and races, there is a real sense of readiness and excitement about our team.

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SM : Many people get angry in training. Some shout abuse at themselves or others, some throw their boat and paddles around and some swing at the gate with their paddles. What happens if you feel like you are having a bad session and your partner is in a good mood

How do you feel when you are on the water training and others act in this way?

JJ : Well, I had some pretty “embarrassing” moments earlier in my career when it came to handing poor-paddling. So, when I see it happening with others today, I am not too judgemental about it. I think those incidents give you an opportunity to think how you might do something different if you were in their situation.

SM : How do you and current partner, Matt deal with a bad session?

JJ : Matt and I have been around tense situations and moments in this sport for a long time now. In a bad session, I think we try to acknowledge some ideas about the workout early on before bad feelings build up, and we try to see some of the good things that are happening within a bad workout too..

STRENGTH AND WEAKNESSES

SM : When I watch you race or train, your best attributes seem to be power and focus. How much time do you spend working on weaknesses?

JJ : Hopefully, I am addressing weaknesses on an on-going basis. I guess the moment you stop considering yourself a “student of the sport” is the moment you start to overlook the places you can make improvement. It would be hard to put a number on how much time is spent addressing weaknesses or strengths but I can tell you that I train and race to get better – not to reinforce a few areas where I am already strong.

SM : Out of all the C2 paddlers in the world past and present, who’s style/technique do you like the most and why?

JJ : I think the Hoksi style teaches a lot of positive yet simple ideas about paddling a C2, not unlike the way so many Kayak racers were able to learn from Richard Fox during his career. These athletes practice great patience, connect their boats to the water fantastically well, and demonstrate where the real power is – in the water.

SM : Which paddler do you respect the most and for what reason?

JJ : I respect paddlers who are true to their core values – paddle by their own “rules” and are motivated by being a part of something bigger than their own pursuit. But, I also respect those athletes who not only performed well on the water but represent our sport well off the river. Richard Fox is always the first to come to mind for me. But there are many more!

MENTAL SIDE OF RACING

SM : I believe the mental side of racing is one of the most import aspects of Canoe Slalom. Trying to get in the right ‘state of mind’ or getting ‘in the zone’ to race can be crucial. I have heard stories of people trying to ‘syke out’ opponents, incidents where a coach will come to the start and shout to his athlete that ‘gate 14 has moved’, when it has not. The better an athlete can deal with these things, the more it will help them perform. What was your worst experience racing/ worst ‘major’ race result?

JJ : At the Pre-Olympic race in Seu in 1991, Scott and I had a horrible race flipping in the middle of the course. On the walk back from the course, it seemed like Spanish Television was showing our roll (in slow motion) every time I walked past a television in town. Later that night, I was still feeling pretty bad about the race and the bowman of the German C2 who won that day, announced to the group that I was with, that there was no need to come to the Olympics next year – the result had already been “decided.” I hadn’t really had many personal interactions like that in this sport and actually haven’t since that night. “Guarantees” about performance in sport have always struck with me with a sense of insecurity about the person making the guarantee.

SM : How did it affect your following races?

JJ : That incident didn’t affect our ’92 Olympic race but definitely shaped the kind of “winner” I wanted to be, rather than the kind I didn’t want to be.

SM : How do you feel watching prize giving?

JJ : My thoughts about watching any awards ceremony in any sport is that 1) it is respectful of the winners and the race itself and 2) it helps me to acknowledge something about a winner’s “process” (vs. “result.”).

SM : Describe the process you go through when you look at a course for the first time? For example, how long do you look at a course? Do you do it alone? Do you imagine yourself paddling down it?

JJ : Seeing a course for the first time allows you to make some quick connections with the basic elements of the course – scan for moves you were hoping to see, combinations you’ve practiced before, and get excited about moves that you can tell will contribute to a “great race.” Prior to demonstration runs, I just try to keep a loose connection with the whole course – not get too up or too down (cynical) about any one move. Normally, Matt and I don’t start speaking too specifically about the course until after demos are complete.

SM : Do you ever try to psyche out your opponents or recall people trying to psyche you out?

JJ : No time to worry about the other guys.

SM : During race day, what do you do to help deal with the pressures of racing?

JJ : Race Day is a most enjoyable for me – I like the “seriousness” that comes over our surrounding environment and observing the change in attitudes of people from previous days – coaches, other athletes, judges, organizers, etc. I put a lot of thought and work into managing time on race day and I keep a pretty clear level of “awareness” on race days – I like to be aware of the dynamics that make the race days so unique.

SM : What do you do in the last hour before a race run?

JJ : Normally within an hour of a race run, we have completed or are just completing our warm-up, which is pretty long and planned out, yet unique to the site where we are racing. In that time, I normally like to find some place to sit for a while, re-connect with the coach once (even if just very briefly,) and stay loose – maybe laugh a little bit.

SM : What typically runs through your mind on the start line?

JJ : My mind is quiet but ready for action in a minute. To myself, I acknowledge the people and situations that I am fortunate to have in my life.

EXTRAS

SM : What was your driving force? Winning races, being the best, personal achievement?

JJ : Personal achievement – it’s always about the “journey.”

SM : Despite being one of the most successful C2 paddlers of all time, is there anything you would like to change about the past?

JJ : Today’s “present” will be tomorrow’s “past”. I feel like I am given an opportunity to influence the past every day.

SM : Did you ever cross the finish line totally happy with your run, and which run was it?

JJ : When I am speaking to the school students and showing the ’92 Olympic video, I raise my fist in the air just after we crossed the finish line. Inevitably, a student asks, “So that’s when you knew you won?” My favourite part of my speaking program is telling the students that there were still 10 boats up in the start, any of whom could have knocked us down. Crossing the finish line happy, was just being happy that we did the best we could have done.

SM : How do you feel knowing that you will forever be in the history books as an Olympic Gold Medallist?

JJ : I remember many of the 1992 Whitewater Olympians and I was just proud to share that stage with all of them. Then, to be associated with the’92 Medallists as a medallist, that’s a tremendous honour too. But, for the time being, I am just really thrilled to have an opportunity to compete with Matt this summer at the Games in Athens. As I alluded to in an earlier question, “history” is about the past and now is the time to be in the present!

SM : What single piece of advice would you like to pass on to an up-and-coming C1 or C2 paddler?

JJ : Work hard with the training; Have fun with the racing; Travel when and while you can; Apply what you learn in the sport to anything you want to do later.

Thank you Joe for taking the time out to do this interview. Good luck in Athens at the 2004 Olympic Games!

WOW, that all seems like yesterday, I cant believe that was over 10 years ago!  More BLAST FORM THE PAST interviews to come, Including Gareth Marriott, Nick Smith and some of my own interesting/controversial theories on racing and training.

About Olympian Stuart McIntosh - My Fitness Mentor

2000 & 2004 Olympian. Founder of My Fitness Mentor -Personal Training Programs for men & women, Sports Conditioning, Athlete Mentoring & Slalom Coaching.
This entry was posted in Athlete, Canoe Slalom, coaching, elite sport, psychology, Sport, sport performance, Sport Psychology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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