Are Ghent University professors pushing Brys and Van Zandweghe for gold in Tokyo?

Since the spring of 2020, Jan Bourgois and Jan Boone have been leading the Belgian rowers. With a thorough scientific approach, including ketones, they especially want to lead the Brys/Van Zandweghe duo to success. Sporza went to talk to the duo of professors.

In October 2020, Tim Brys and Niels Van Zandweghe captured bronze at the European Rowing Championships. It was also the first – successful – test for the professors duo Jan Boone and Jan Bourgois.

“That first European Championship, that first tournament, we were trying out some things,” Jan Boone starts. “We did have our operation set up and the training schedule since May. But we didn’t know where we stood in relation to the competitors”.

Jan Bourgois agrees, “We did know that there was good training, of course.”

The strength training is much more structured, for example. We have expanded the expert group around the rowers. And also focused on specific nutrition and sports psychology.

Jan Boone

“In the end, the result at the European Championships shows that everything has gelled. And it is above all a step in the right direction for the Games in Tokyo”.

The “marginal gains” make the difference.

“Brys and Van Zandweghe finished within a second of gold at the European Championships. That certainly opens up prospects,” says Jan Bourgois. “We have already analyzed the race and it is the so-called ‘marginal gains’ that made the difference. It comes down to little things.”

“They didn’t win because in the first 1,000 meters they couldn’t keep up with the Italians. That’s why we’re bringing in a biomechanic to analyze that beginning of the race.”

“We have to focus on those small differences,” Bourgois says. “I expect that in Tokyo we will have five, six boats within the same second. And then the marginal gains are going to make the difference. We can hope and dream of a medal in Tokyo, even a gold one.”

Brys and Van Zandweghe themselves say the ketones helped them.

Jan Boone

“Two of the experts we introduced to the team are nutritionist Stephanie Scheirlynck and exercise physiologist Peter Hespel,” Boone said. “They have guided the rowers in the use of ketones for this EC. That’s expensive, but Sport Flanders is currently supporting that in several sports.”

“You can’t measure the effect of it, of course,” Bourgois adds, “but the rowers subjectively indicate that it has helped them. Even if it’s just a psychological effect, that too is important. It is also crucial to build a real team around the rowers,” adds Bourgois. “Getting them to function as a group and to provide optimal guidance, that’s our goal.”

As a professor of exercise physiology, Jan Bourgois has a rowing history himself. From 1988 to 2012 he coached the national juniors. After that Jan Boone took over from him. Bourgois also worked as a physical coach in basketball club BC Oostende and in soccer team AA Gent.

Boone – professor of training theory – brings experience from cycling. “And we certainly take that with us,” he says. “That way – just like in cycling – we will train more on power.”

With two boats towards Tokyo

“What was good we are going to try to keep towards Tokyo,” says Jan Boone. “We’re going to adjust mainly some small things. For example, we want to work on acclimatization in the run-up to Tokyo. That’s perfectly possible here in the lab at Ghent University.” Bourgois adds, “Brys and Van Zandweghe have already been selected for the Games, that is the main focus.”

But the intention is to get a second boat selected. We are going to organize internships with the different rowers who are eligible.

Jan Bourgois

“In May there’s in Lucerne, another Olympic qualifying tournament,” Boone adds. “That’s where it has to happen.”

Reach out to Kristof De Mey if you want to have more information about this topic.

This article was published in October 2020 on the website of Sporza (in Dutch).

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