Dara Alizadeh ‛over the moon’ after clinching Olympic rowing spot
Dara Alizadeh admitted it has still not quite sunk in that he will realise his Olympic Games dream after booking his place in Tokyo at the Americas rowing qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Bermudian rower clinched one of five qualifying spots in the single sculls discipline — alongside Lucas Ferreira, of Brazil, Alvaro Torres Masias, of Peru, and Felix Damian Potoy, of Nicaragua — after finishing third in the B final.
Having endured an agonising wait for the qualifiers to finally to be staged, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 27-year-old’s endeavours have been ultimately vindicated after taking a year off from his university studies at Cambridge to chase his Olympic aspirations.
“Obviously, I’m absolutely over the moon but it is still sinking in the fact I’m going to Tokyo for the Olympic Games,” Alizadeh said to The Royal Gazette. “The fact that I’ve actually qualified for the Olympics definitely hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s been an absolutely crazy week and now that it is done and dusted, there are a lot of emotions.
“I wasn’t fully ready to accept I was going until I had that official confirmation, but now I do it is starting to become a reality. All of the ups and downs of my preparation and the uncertainty of the qualifier were all worth it.”
Having qualified for the Games, which are scheduled to be held in the Japanese capital from July 23 to August 8, Alizadeh is set to become just the island’s third rower to reach the Olympics — after Jim Butterfield (Munich 1972) and Shelley Pearson (Rio 2016).
“The fact that I’ll join that relatively small group of Bermudian Olympians is really special and will take a moment to enjoy that and appreciate it,” he added.
“I want to add to that legacy of those before me because I owe a lot to both Jim [Butterfield] and Shelley [Pearson]. In particular, Shelley, who really showed me the process of how to qualify and, more importantly, proved it could be done.
“To know I’m now part of that small group is an incredible feeling. I couldn’t have envisaged being here two years ago, but now it is a reality.”
Reflecting on the qualifier itself, Alizadeh conceded he was not content with his performance, culminating in an excruciating wait to discover if he had done enough to earn his place in Tokyo.
“During the qualifier, I didn’t feel I had hit the level of performance that I wanted,” he said. “I set myself high expectations and through the heats and semi-final, I just didn’t feel I had a good races.
“The B final went a little better, but obviously I didn’t know if I had done enough. After I finished up I had to wait, which was ridiculously stressful as it was out of my hands.
“It was chaotic scenes as I tried to work out if I had a shot of qualifying; it was so nerve-racking. Even though I thought I had done enough, I just had to wait for that concrete confirmation. Once I had that, it all suddenly started to dawn on me.”
Despite achieving his ambition of qualification, Alizadeh is refusing to rest on his laurels, as he aims to make a significant mark on the biggest sporting stage of them all.
He added: “It’s a really exciting prospect to be going to the Olympics, but I know the real hard work starts now. I have to look ahead and make sure I’m fully prepared.
“I’ve come away from the qualifiers knowing I have work to do to address what I learnt. I have to remember now I have the prospect of facing the very best in the world, not just within the region.
“However, I’m going there to give the best account of myself and compete; I don’t want to just be there to make up the numbers.
“There will be plenty of time to look back and reflect on being an Olympian, but my mindset is one that I want to be there to compete and I have a goal that I’m fully focused on.”
Andre Perez, the president of the Bermuda Rowing Association, hailed Alizadeh’s achievement and the milestone of having a rowing representative at the Olympics for a second successive Games.
“It is very exciting that Dara has qualified,” he said. “It will be the second Olympics in a row that Bermuda has had someone qualify in rowing and that in itself is a huge achievement. We are all very proud.”
Brenda Dale, the vice-president of the Bermuda Olympic Association and chef de mission for Tokyo 2020, also congratulated Alizadeh, while hailing the significance of the island once again being present at the Games.
“We’re all so pleased for Dara,” she said. “He had such a hard time of uncertainty surrounding the qualifiers and the fact he sacrificed a year of his studies to commit himself to qualifying; to do so is an amazing feat.
“Having any athlete qualify for the Olympics from a small place like Bermuda is always so special for the island.”