by Regula Schweizer
At the beginning of the year the Swiss high performance rower, Jeannine Gmelin, retired from active sports. Today she has a new task at the Lucerne Regatta: She welcomes guests as a hostess and barista in “rob’s hood” coffee lounge. It is a tribute to her coach and partner, Robin Dowell, who unexpectedly passed away in December 2022.
Jeannine Gmelin, what does a perfect coffee taste like to you?
Not sour. Not bitter. I prefer a sweet coffee with a chocolate note. Of course always with milk.
It is unusual to talk with you about the perfect cup of coffee instead of the perfect rowing stroke.
I understand that. But you know, going out for a good cup of coffee has always been important to me, even as a high performance rower. It’s a break from everyday life or a short recovery pause during the World Championships.
Your long time trainer and partner Robin Dowell passed away unexpectedly at the end of last year. You shared his passion for coffee.
Robin loved coffee. For him, the passion for coffee came right after his love for rowing. While I may not be as passionate about coffee as he was. During lockdown when we were suddenly unable to enjoy good coffee outside, he bought a professional coffee machine so we wouldn’t have to go without.
This is how the idea of honoring him with a coffee lounge at the Lucerne Regatta started?
It wasn’t exactly my idea, it was his. In 2022, we discovered the roastery “400mg” during the regatta. Today, “400mg” is based in Hitzkirch, but back then the roastery was located right by the Rotsee. We were impressed with their coffee and Robin started talking to the owner. We couldn’t spontaneously execute the idea for 2022, but last autumn, Robin began all the necessary preparations with the roastery and the director of the Lucerne Regatta, Timon Wernas. So that this year all coaches, athletes, staff and visitors of the Lucerne Regatta can enjoy an amazing coffee.
This vision is now becoming reality.
In spring, I realized that this was a way to honor him. So, I reconnected with all my contacts and tried to make it happen. The reactions were very positive and
once again it showed me how Robin could inspire people, whether they were coffee roasters, graphic designers or regatta directors.
As an exceptional Allrounder, you have been at the start of the Lucerne Regatta for many years. This year, you will be running a coffee lounge. How did you prepare?
A good coffee can’t be made with the push of a single button. A good coffee is a craft. I took a barista course as well as a latte art course. My sister accompanied me and will also support me at the regatta – as well as Robin’s sister Megan. After those courses, I’m even more impressed by how Robin taught himself the art of coffee preparation. He never bragged about it and never got frustrated when he couldn’t manage something on the first try. Actually that describes him very well. He was always looking for solutions and sometimes (Jeaninne laughing) he just had a “stuure grind” *( funny swiss expression for being stubborn).
Do you have respect to return to Rotsee after your retirement as a rower?
No, I don’t have respect, but it’s going to be tough. It will be tough because it will remind me of what I no longer have. I did not retire because I no longer wanted to live the life of an athlete or race anymore. The reason why I won’t be on the water at Rotsee this year, but rather running a coffee lounge, is because Robin is no longer here. Having this project “rob’s hood” gives me a lot of purpose. I am doing it for myself, but primarily for Robin.
“rob’s hood” is located directly at the boat park area, somewhat shielded from the racing action. Will you still be watching the women’s singles races down at the course?
Yes, I think so. The athletes were my competitors, but we traveled together for almost ten years and experienced a lot together. One special memory is certainly the races in the Great Eight. The Great Eight is a composition of the best athletes of the world, the seats get selected after the season is over. That’s why in all those years as opponents we still formed a tight bond which results in friendship that will last a lifetime.
Long-time competitors and friends of the rowing community can stop by for a quick espresso or a flat white. Who are you most excited to see?
Robin had many role models, friends, and “competitors” in the international rowing world, whom he always treated with respect for their work. I am looking forward to hopefully greeting many of them for a coffee. Preferably, with a good story about their experiences with Robin, and write down a memory in the guestbook that will be available, so that those memories will live on forever.