Next Stop Tokyo: Dara Alizadeh

Tokyo 2020 Athlete Interviews

2 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 18.07.21

Dara Alizadeh, 27, makes his Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 as the men’s single sculler for Bermuda. And his duties are not just on the water, Dara will be Bermuda’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. A former high school wrestler, Dara switched sports and rowed at The University of Pennsylvania and later The University of Cambridge. The U23 silver medallist and former President of Cambridge has twice won The Boat Race. He failed to qualify for Tokyo at the 2019 World Rowing Championships but succeeded at the 2021 Americas Olympic and Paralympic Continental Qualification Regatta. He shares his thoughts on Tokyo.

Photo BER M1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

How’s your season? It has been good. I raced at the Americas Olympic Regional Qualifier; I performed well below my own expectations, but I managed to qualify. Then I competed at World Cup II in Lucerne and finished in the D-final but learnt a lot. Finally, I raced domestically at the Metropolitan Regatta at Dorney and at BUCS regatta in Nottingham, medalling at both and winning the Met. What’s nice is that at each event I have seen serious improvement on the previous race.

When did you arrive in Japan? My coach, Rob Baker, and I flew out of Heathrow on July 15th, and arrived in Tokyo the next day. We’ve been staying in the athlete village.

Have you visited Tokyo before? I’ve never even been to Japan!

Photo Dara Alizadeh
Credit Benedict Tufnell

When do you leave? All the athletes are kicked out of the village 24 to 48 hours after their event is over. I’ll head straight back to London and then I’ll have a quick turnaround to prepare for Henley Royal Regatta.

How do you feel? Man, how do I feel? I’m so pumped! I’ve been trying to enjoy this time: My exams are done and I’ve nothing to worry about except moving the shell. It’s crazy to think where I was a couple years ago in the single, hoping I wouldn’t flip it, to now ready to race at the Olympics – although I’m still making sure I don’t flip!

What do you hope for? A few months ago, I was only focused reaching a certain rank. I found that I got myself so worked up that I would not only perform poorly but also be miserable regardless of whether things were going well or not. Invariably this led to things going even more poorly, and it was a negative cycle. Recently, I’ve changed my mindset. I still have a goal in mind but I’ve also focused on enjoying the process. I don’t just think about the end result. This has worked very well for me, and the results prove it. Focus on the process, and to quote the great Bill Walsh, “the score will take care of itself.”

What motivates you? I’m excited to see what I can accomplish. I have put a lot into this, and Tokyo 2020 is the Big Dance. I’m not sure what more there is to say.

Have you tapered? My last heavy training block, I tried to get in a good amount of mileage, but also test the upper limits of my speed. I went pretty deep into the well. Now I’m done with that, and I’ve started to ease back the workload before racing starts.

How big is your team? In terms of rowers, it’s a grand total of one: just me! My coach Rob Baker is joining me, and my brother was able to join the Bermuda contingent. In terms of the entire team, Bermuda has two athletes, the other one being Flora Duffy the triathlete. 

Which race are you looking forward to? The men’s eight. It’s always so exciting to watch, and the event in which I know the most people.

What other sports will you follow? I won’t lie, I haven’t even thought about the other events. I’ll have to start catching up on what’s going on, to know what to watch in my downtime!