Dara Alizadeh ready to get rowing at Tokyo 2020
Rower Dara Alizadeh, one of two athletes representing Bermuda at the Tokyo Olympics, faces a busy day today when he competes in the preliminaries of the singles sculls and then later on performs as flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
Triathlete Flora Duffy does not arrive in Japan until tomorrow, ahead of her event on Monday, when she will be a strong contender for a medal.
“Our equestrian, Annabelle Collins, was going to be the female flag bearer but her horse, Joyero, was lame,” explained Brenda Dale, the Bermuda chef de mission of her decision to withdraw from the Games.
“Chuppy Checker, her second horse, didn’t quite make the qualifications, missed it by 0.4 per cent, so at the last minute she couldn’t be the flag bearer. We’re happy to have Dara carry the flag for us.
“Flora’s plane doesn’t arrive in time for her to make it to the opening ceremony.
‘There is a new rule by the IOC this year where they wanted to have a male and female [flag bearer]. The rule for the athletes is they can only come to the village five days ahead of their event and have to leave within 48 hours of the end of their competition, or when they are eliminated.“
Alizadeh has been settling in ahead of his opening competition. “Training has gone really well, it’s gotten better every day,” he said yesterday.
“We’ve been here a week now and have gotten used to the water, the conditions, the heat and the process of how everything works. Most importantly, the boat feels pretty good.”
Asked how he felt about being at the Olympics, Alizadeh said he is still taking it all in ahead of the opening ceremony. “It’s hard to put into words, it’s the dream,” he explained.
“Just getting to compete here is a dream in itself. Then to be the flag bearer is like the super dream! I would not have imagined that any time in my life!”
Alizadeh, like the other rowers, has been using the past few days to get familiar with the water conditions ahead of the opening competition. “I’m just trying to get acclimatised as much as you can and just get used to what the wind is like, what the water is like,” he stated.
“Saltwater is a little different than freshwater, the combination of all these things, you get used to it. Each day as I get more used to it, I get a little more confident.
“I had a really good session today and it sets me up for tomorrow and the rest of the week.”
Asked what words of encouragement he would offer other aspiring Olympians, Alizadeh responded: “As long as you love what you are doing, that’s the key.
“Obviously there is hard work, but everyone here loves doing their sport. It’s cool to see the best at what they are doing. Normally I’m used to seeing rowers, but here you are surrounded by the world’s best in every sport.”
Alizadeh is accompanied in Japan by his coach, Rob Baker, who is confident his charge has had the best possible preparation ahead of the Games.
“I’m excited for him, excited to see what he can do and happy to help him be the best he can be tomorrow and through the rest of the regatta,” Baker said.
“Just trying to recover well after the sessions is really important. There are different components with the conditions, quite reasonably benign conditions on the water.
“The wind may swing to a tailwind, you may have to pick things a little faster and may have to be a little bit steady in how you take the stroke. We’re trusting what he has done, what he is capable of doing and believing in that and not trying to do something crazy on the day because that won’t work. It has to be something we’ve done in training.”
Dale said the village, because of the Covid restrictions, does not resemble a usual Olympic Village, but that the athletes seem to be adjusting to the protocols.
“It’s been a really good experience so far in the village,” she said. “The village is first-class, very clean and everything is pretty new.
“Our experience in the village so far has been fairly positive. We have challenges with the transportation but other than that it’s been pretty smooth.
“The first thing was getting Dara settled in terms of what the process is and where everything is so that he can perform at his best tomorrow. Flora will be getting here late tomorrow.
“For us, it has been a good experience; the village is very different from what an Olympic Village has been in the past.”
Dale added: “Most groups stay together and are not mixing. You usually have a village welcome ceremony but there isn’t that. A lot of things are still being done virtually so that there isn’t the mixing of groups.
“Some of the large teams have created their own dining areas outside, but you don’t see the mixing of people that you would at other Games.
“I commend the Japanese Government for all the measures they have put in place to try to keep people safe. When you come into the dining hall there is a station to wash your hands and you have to wear gloves.
“The experience is different, the teams are respectful of each other and very much trying to stay within their own bubbles. In the evening people go and have their meals and pretty much go back to their rooms.”
Heats tonight begin at 8.30pm Bermuda time.
Alizadeh is in the fourth heat, which is scheduled to begin at 9pm.
The top three finishers move into the quarter-finals with the others dropping into the second-chance repechage tomorrow.
• Additional reporting and video by Kageaki Smith, a Japanese-Bermudian living in Tokyo