Date set for rower Dara Alizadeh to make Olympic grade
Dara Alizadeh finally has a new qualifying date to focus on as he continues his drive towards reaching the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, next year. Or so he thinks.
The single sculler, who hopes to become the island’s third rower to reach the Olympics — after Jim Butterfield (Munich 1972) and Shelley Pearson (Rio 2016) — remains upbeat in his quest despite the many obstacles brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic this year.
He needs a top-five finish in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend of March 2 to 4 to book his place at Tokyo 2020.
The qualifiers have already been changed a couple of times from an original date of April, and now Alizadeh and the other rowers, can think ahead to March — knowing that the date could change again on January 11 when the organisers are due to make a definitive decision.
Alizadeh, who enjoyed Christmas at home in Bermuda, is in England in the final year of completing a philosophy degree at Cambridge University.
It is fitting, then, that he can be philosophical about the on-again, off-again uncertainty of his situation since Covid-19 began its year of disruption.
“The original qualifier was April 2020, with the Olympics five months after that,” the 27-year-old said. “They kept it on ice for six months and in November told us the new date for the qualifier was the end of January.
“Then, at the end of November, they said ‛Brazil is going back up in terms of cases, we’re going to delay it again and will let you know what the dates are’. The most recent correspondence has been that the dates are set for late February and late March, a one-month window, then finally the gave us the dates of March 2-4.
“The other date they told us is January 11, which is going to confirm or reschedule the dates. A lot is going into that and the situation in Brazil is a big factor.
“The world rowing body has to be aware of travel, accommodation and other logistical things that need to happen for a qualifier to run smoothly.”
He added: “You focus on what you can control, take into account different possible outcomes and you spend a little bit of mental energy on what could happen.
“You know that, no matter what happens, you need to do XYZ, and so you focus mostly on XYZ. When I felt really sorry for myself, I noticed that my training was really falling off a cliff.
“The way to deal with this is all about having the right mindset. When the UK went into lockdown for November, training became a lot more difficult. I said, ‛‘OK, you need to have a really good plan to work around this’.
“There aren’t really many competitions, so the downside of that is there is not a lot of opportunity to test my training in a race situation. But I’ve still been able to get out and do a lot of base-work training that is required.
“I’m fortunate in the UK, I have a good training set-up that allows me to get done what I need to. In the Covid restrictions, it’s about finding a solution that works.”
Alizadeh is combining his training with his schoolwork, with the one positive from the pandemic being that classes are mostly remote.
“In the final year of my degree, everything is online and a little more remote than it normally is,” he explained.
“While that is not great in terms of a normal university experience for me, and looking at the positive of it, it works somewhat well as it allows me to be quite flexible in terms of my training. It’s tough to be in two places at once but with all my work being done on a laptop, I can be anywhere.”
Graduation is set for July, a month before the rescheduled Tokyo Games. And an optimistic Alizadeh expects to be flying the Bermuda flag at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay.
“I’ll be finished with my exams end of May, early June, then I’ll be done and shipping off to Tokyo end of July, beginning of August,” he said. “Hopefully, the culmination of a lot of training.”
His stay in Bermuda was rewarding, and he managed to get some training in as well.
I really enjoyed it here,“ he told The Royal Gazette before returning to England on the Tuesday British Airways flight. “I wasn’t sure whether I was going to come back.
“In the UK, I have a team that I train with, but as I’m in the singles, I’m really by myself. Team-mates can help with motivation and all that, but the rest is up to you.”
He added: “The Bermuda Rowing Association has been great; they lent me a rowing machine so I can keep up my training. I haven’t been able to stick to my entire routine since I’ve been back, but I realised pretty quickly once I was here that I needed just a little bit of a break from the monotonous nature of it.
“More importantly, it has been great to see my family and just have a normal holiday.”