Alizadeh commits himself to Tokyo
Dara Alizadeh says it is a case of “full steam ahead” after committing to another qualifying campaign for the rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer.
Alizadeh admits he was crushed when the Olympics was postponed because of Covid-19 in March, just weeks before his Americas qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, where he had to finish in the top five to reach Tokyo.
Despite initially “feeling sorry for himself”, Alizadeh, who believes he was hitting peak form before the qualifiers, quickly put his disappointment into perspective as the novel coronavirus spread across the world.
“I was getting pretty good times; I was starting to strategise rather than just thrashing it,” said Alizadeh, who made the switch from sweep rowing to single sculling as part of his Olympic push.
“I was like, ‘OK, now I'm a player'. I had that confidence built up; I was ready to show against the best of the Americas but that was taken away from me. I was like, ‘C'mon, I'm ready!'
“The Bermuda Rowing Association has been very helpful, especially with everything falling apart. I remember getting a call from Barbara [O'Shaughnessy, the vice-president] to see how I was. I really appreciated that.
“There are a lot more important things than me pulling oars to make a boat go backwards, but, in my little world, it was crushing.”
After deferring the final year of his philosophy degree at Cambridge University to focus on Tokyo, Alizadeh will return to his studies while training with the Light Blues rowing team as he builds towards the qualifiers in Rio in January.
Once again, Alizadeh needs a top-five finish to avoid the dreaded final qualifiers in Lucerne, Switzerland, in May, which he would have to win to achieve his Olympic ambition.
“I've had time off from my degree and I kind of want to get back and finish off my studies and least be reconnected with it,” he said.
“I'm going back to finish my final year, train [with the rowing team] and do my thing.”
The 26-year-old, who helped Cambridge win back-to-back Boat Race titles, said he struggled mentally while training alone for Tokyo and believes being part of a team environment will boost his Olympic bid.
A best-case scenario for Alizadeh would be a top-five finish at the regional qualifiers before pursuing a hat-trick of Boat Race victories in April.
“The Cambridge Boat Club have been very supportive and although I will keep training in the singles, I'll be able to do my land training with the [Cambridge] team, which is so important for me,” said Alizadeh, who hopes to become the island's third rower behind Jim Butterfield and Shelley Pearson to reach the Olympics.
“I'd love to go Rio and qualify for the Olympics and then come back to Cambridge, and if everyone is OK with it, and be a trialist for the Boat Race.
“It will be my last one and it's a very special thing for me. It's like the Kentucky Derby of rowing.
“It's the one day when everyone cares about rowing [in England].
“There are a lot of moving parts, especially with the Covid-19 situation, so who knows if that will work out.”
With Japan suffering a second wave of Covid-19 infections, there is a risk that next summer's Olympics could be cancelled or postponed again. Alizadeh, however, knows he simply cannot entertain such thoughts,
“I cannot be playing. I can't be thinking, ‘maybe they will, maybe they won't',” said Alizadeh, who is part Bermudian, British, American and Iranian.
“I cannot start thinking that I don't have to push it today, [the Olympics] might not happen and I could do this in three years' time.
“I have to approach it like. ‘this is it'. We don't know what will happen in four years.
“In terms of training, I'd rather be ready like I was in April this year [before the Olympics was postponed].
“If Covid gets worse in November I can't just put my feet up. They could then find a vaccine and then be like, ‘OK, we're all good'.”