AU students going the distance: Frederikke plays for Italian club ACF Fiorentia – Markus and Joakim are on course for the next Olympics

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A common rule of thumb is that students should knuckle down with their studies for 40 hours a week, on average. But what do you do, if you are an elite athlete at the same time? Omnibus talked to three students at AU, who are all professional sportspeople as well as students at AU.

2021.03.03 | Nicklas Larsen

Photo: Peter Brøgger

Editorial note: The interviews in this article were conducted before lockdown in December 2020.

Aarhus University is the only Danish university with a separate elite sports department, which allows students to both study and compete in their sport at the same time. The department is called AU Elitesport and it helps students to achieve a balance between studies and competitive sport, which can be a real challenge when training for and taking part in the big sporting events, like for example the Olympic Games.

Full-time football player in Italy and for the Danish national team – and a student at AU

One of these students is Frederikke Skjødt Thøgersen. Her regular job is playing football for the Italian football club ACF Fiorentina and for the Danish national team. She is also studying for an MSc in Political Science at AU.

About Frederikke Thøgersen

  • Has played 55 matches for the Danish national football team and is a regular first-team member.
  • Was born and raised in Thisted. In 2019 she moved from the Danish Women’s Elite Division club Fortuna Hjørring to the Italian club ACF Fiorentina.
  • Has a BSc in Political Science from Aarhus University.

In 2019, the 25-year-old midfielder moved club from Fortuna Hjørring in the Danish Women’s Elite Division to the Tuscan club. This meant that she moved from Aarhus to Italy, where she has been living since July 2019.

She has been able to continue her studies through the help of a ‘study buddy’ – another student also studying Political Science at AU, who has made sure to record the lectures at AU, so that Frederikke Skjødt Thøgersen can listen to them afterwards.

”I really like studying. It brings out something in me that sport just doesn’t. And also, women’s football is nowhere near the same level as men’s football – which means that there aren’t the same great opportunities to continue in football.”

Frederikke Skjødt Thøgersen doesn’t think that she would be where she is today without the support of AU Elitesport.

”Maybe I would have started my studies, but there’s no way I would be doing an MSc without their support.”

Frederikke Skjødt Thøgersen finished her undergraduate degree last year. It was just when the corona epidemic was taking hold – and at the same time she suffered an annoying, but also well-timed injury – which allowed her to finish writing her bachelor project.

”This was the silver lining of my injury. After the national team had been in Portugal, I decided to go home to Denmark instead of heading back to Italy because of the corona virus situation. And in the four months I was home, I was able to finish my bachelor project.”

Learnt to prioritise

A normal day in the life of the 25-year-old Fiorentina player involves countless workouts, meetings and timed meals. This doesn’t leave much time for studying: 

”If it’s a day where we have to train twice, maybe I would have a quick half hour at lunchtime to study and otherwise it would be after dinner before I could look at my work,” she explained and continued:

”Of course all students need to prioritise different things, but I think that studying at the same time as playing professional football has made me learn how to prioritise my time most efficiently.”

Olympic Games in sight

The two sailors Joakim Salskov-Iversen and Markus Nielsen both study at AU and are also a part of the programme at AU Elitesport. In addition, they are members of Team Denmark. Sailing in the boat class 49er, they are aiming for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and therefore spend many hours in Aarhus Bay and in the sailing centre at Aarhus harbour to optimise their times in the 4.99 metre long boat.

According to one half of the duo, Markus Nielsen, the sport is roughly speaking “two people sailing, but you sail as one and try to get to the finish line before the other boats”.

The goal is the Olympic Games with AU on the sidelines

As part of their ambition of going to the Olympic Games in 2024,[MF1]  they came home in October from the European Championships after securing a 14th-place finish out of the 60 Class 49 boats that took part.

Their average day is filled up with training on the water near Aarhus, and at the same time studying at AU.

Markus Nielsen, who is the boatswain, is in his 3rd semester of an undergraduate history degree, and Joakim Salskov-Iversen, who is the helmsman, is in his first semester of a Master’s in International Economic Consulting.

The duo agreed that spending so much time on the water impacted negatively on studying:

”There’s lots I have to say no to at home, and I need to really prioritise what I need to read at university. I have to think about when a particular grade is important and when do I just need to pass.  At times it’s really frustrating that I can’t be a part of the class – both in relation to the academic side of university and the social aspect. But if you really want to sail at the highest level possible, then that’s just one of the sacrifices,” said Joakim Salskov-Iversen, and Markus Nielsen added:

”There’s lots of talk about a dual career, but for us it’s almost a triple career. We study, sail and have to be our own managers,” he said and explained that in sailing, all the practical things and work related to sponsorship are really left up to the individuals themselves.

Markus Nielsen (left) and Joakim Salskov-Iversen (right). Photo: Omnibus/Nicklas Larsen

The study-buddy scheme is a requirement for being able to study at AU

The sailors spend a lot of time abroad at races, and during the winter months, it is quite a challenge sailing in the low water temperatures of the Danish seas.

About Markus Nielsen and Joakim Salskov-Iversen

  • The two former rivals came together as a team at the beginning of 2017.
  • They both started sailing at their local sailing clubs, but are now both members of the Royal Danish Yacht Club (Kongelig Dansk Yachtklub).

”During winter you can’t be in the water longer than 45 minutes – it wipes you out because it’s just so cold,” explained Markus Nielsen.

Therefore, they spend a lot of time training, often in southern Europe, where the water temperature is much more suitable to sailing. This means that the AU Elitesport’s study-buddy scheme is a requirement for being able to study at AU.

And the elite sport department also helps with other things: 

”They help with planning our study timetable, and they’re really supportive of the fact that we can’t always make it to class – they understand the situation,” explained Markus Nielsen.

Sometimes, though, the students have a bad conscience about not being able to attend everything at the university. And in order to do everything, sometimes other pastimes just get cut, explained the helmsman.

”You need to be clear in your own mind about when you can relax and when you should be working. We basically don’t have enough hours during the day to get everything done, but things can work out if we stick to this scheme,” added Joakim Salskov-Iversen.


AU Elitesport

  • AU’s elite sport scheme helps elite athletes to study and continue to pursue their sport at the same time.
  • Right now there are almost 300 students who are part of this AU scheme. 
  • READ MORE about AU Elitesport.

Translated by Marian Flanagan

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