Coach Spotlight

Clemens Reinke


Clemens brings to Craftsbury his broad knowledge of sculling developed as a competitor in the rowing academies of Germany. Currently studying for his Doctor in Ministry, Clemens had a moment to take a break and talk to CSC Associate Director, Marlene Royle, about his sculling and coaching experience.

MR: When you began your rowing career in Germany as a student in the mid-1970s how much did you scull versus sweep?

CR: I was 12 years old when I joined the rowing league at the Matthias Claudius Gymnasium in Hamburg. The first time I came down to the boathouse that Spring in 1973 the instructors put us into a coxed-gig 4x. After only a few outings in the gig, we started going out in smaller, children-sized 1xs. My favorite boat was "Julchen" and we had a blast when we had a group of 12 and 13-year-olds going out chasing each other, and learning all sorts of maneuvers. That summer we already participated in children's regattas. Those regattas offered 500-meter sprints and slalom courses where we needed to maneuver our singles through small gates and around various buoys. Of course, often competitors would fall into the water, but it was all for fun! The German Rowing Association (DRV) even organized German Children's Championships for 13 and 14-year-olds, which one qualified for through the State Championships. These races were all 500-meter sprints. I represented my State of Hamburg at the German Championships in Essen in 1974 (4th Place) and in Berlin in 1975 (1st Place).

In those early years I remember meeting the famous German rowing coach, Karl Adam, who came to watch us compete in Berlin in 1975 and who then coached a group of us that had been invited to a rowing camp at the Ruderakademie in Ratzeburg (Germany).

Sculling was the only thing we did as children. We were not even allowed to get into a sweep boat until we were older. It was feared that allowing children to sweep too early would damage the growing skeleton. I don't recall how old I was when I set in a sweep boat for the first time, but I must have been about 15 or 16 when I advanced into the Junior B category.

I continued sculling throughout my whole competitive career focusing mostly on the 1x, but also rowing in a 2x and a few 4xs, winning both German Junior Championships and German Scholastic Championships between 1976 and 1979. As a Junior A (1978/79) I was invited to join the German National Junior Team, where I continued strictly as a sculler, mostly in a 1x. The only times I rowed in sweep boats were when at local regattas a team needed another person and I jumped in to fill the seat. There were also a few times when touring various German rivers on vacations we had sweep boats to row in. So I remember rowing almost 600 miles on the Danube River from Ulm, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, or we used very wide boats with two people rowing next to each other and four on each side to tour the Mosel and Weser Rivers.

The Coxed Gig Quads we first learned in. Here is an example of a girls boat on May 10, 1979.

MR: As a member of the German Junior National Team you trained with one of the greatest scullers of all time, Peter Michael Kolbe. What was that experience like for you and what are some of the most important things that you learned from him?

CR: Peter Michael Kolbe is eight years older than I and came also from Hamburg. It was a great honor when Kolbe and his coach invited me to train with them in 1978 when I made the National Junior Team. At that point, Kolbe had already won the World Championships in 1975 (Nottingham, England), lost the Montreal Olympics to Pertti Karppinen in 1976, and was about to win the World Championships again in 1978. Kolbe taught me a lot about being relaxed in the boat and to pull through the water with long strokes. A few times we practiced starts together. I was always very proud of myself, when in the first twenty strokes, I was able to pull away from Kolbe but he always knew better. He would catch up to me at the 500 m point at the latest. Of course, Kolbe was pacing himself for the 2,000-meter course while I was still gearing toward a 1,500-meter distance. In very late Fall of 1978 and 1979, Kolbe and I represented Germany at a Head Race organized by the Molsey Boat Club on the Thames River in England, where we both won our respective categories each year. I remember Kolbe as a shy and quiet person, but there were times when he could let loose a little especially in England when we went to the Molsey Boat Club's pub.

Peter Michael Kolbe and Clemens Reinke at the Molsey Boat Club in England in 1979.

MR: What was your best and worst competitive experience?

CR: My best competitive experiences were winning the German Championships five times and rowing for Germany at an International Junior Regatta in Villach, Austria. My greatest disappointment came when I was in training camp at the Ruderakademie in Ratzeburg for about four weeks the summer of 1979. The German Junior Team was getting ready to compete in Moscow, USSR when the day before our departure our coaches told us that the trip was cancelled. The reason was that we had three rowers from West Berlin on our team and the Soviet authorities denied them the visas arguing that West Berlin was not part of West Germany, and therefore they could not be on our team. As a result the German Rowing Association (DRV) pulled the plug on the whole team. It was an absolute disappointment!

After winning my first German Championship in Essen in1977. In front, Dr. Claus Hess, then president of the German Rowing Association (DRV).

After winning the International Junior Regatta in Villach, Austria in 1979.

MR: Can you tell us about the rowing program you are currently coaching?

CR: Currently, I am the Competitive Team Coach at the Passaic River Rowing Association ( in Northern New Jersey, only 30 minutes outside of New York City. After having coached PRRA's youth program for three years, the club hired me for the first time as the competitive coach last year. The greatest challenge we were facing on the club level was how to do justice to two goals that are seemingly exclusive of each other. On the one hand, we want to give experienced rowers an opportunity to race on their highest competitive level in the masters class and as a club we want to build strong, competitive boats. On the other hand, we want to be welcoming to new rowers who may have rowed in college and are ready to get back into some competitive rowing but are not yet fully up to par. It is the tension between being an open, welcoming club, and yet making hard choices for the most competitive teams. As a solution we are introducing a tiered program this year where the most competitive rowers (Tier 3) are selected on the basis of erg scores, rowing skill, and who commit themselves to a minimum amount of practice while at the same time we welcome novices to competitive rowing (Tier 1) to get their feet wet in some local regattas. Last year, our competitive program consisted of 37 rowers (11 women, 21 men, 6 coxswains) between the ages of 17 and 63. We had representation at the Masters Nationals in Tennessee, the Head of the Charles in Boston, and the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia.

MR: In your opinion, what are some of the key points to learning to scull well?

CR: As I mentioned from my time with Peter Michael Kolbe, I believe that the most important thing is to be relaxed and to allow the boat to give you exact feedback to your rowing. Sculling is the art of applying full power using those muscles instrumental in moving the boat forward, while at the same time being relaxed in all other muscles groups. This applies especially to the hands and the shoulders. Often scullers are grabbing the oar handles so hard that it is impossible to feel the blade in the water. And at the same time scullers often raise their shoulders tightening up those muscles taking away the possibility of a smooth drive. Keeping the shoulders, arms, and hands relaxed while connected the power in the lower back will do wonders to a good sculling technique.

MR: You have been a member of the Craftsbury staff for a number of years, what do you find most enjoyable and unique about coaching at Craftsbury?

CR: Each year I look forward to my time at Craftsbury. It is a real treat! I enjoy the collegiality of the other coaches, as we learn from each other. Living in Northern New Jersey, I cherish the beautiful Vermont setting: the beautiful green mountains, the excellent water of Hosmer Pond, and the quietness around the area. It renews my spirit, especially when I have a week or two when I don't have anything else to worry about than what I love to do: row and teach rowing! And I always meet nice and interesting people who come to Craftsbury. Of course, I can't forget to mention the great food!