Next Stop Tokyo: Laila Youssifou

Tokyo 2020 Athlete Interviews

1 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 07.07.21

A World Cup and European Championship medallist in both sweep and sculling, Laila Youssifou, 25, is a versatile athlete. She is a two-time European Champion having defended her title in Varese, Italy from the bow seat of the Dutch women’s quad. Acting as team reserve during the 2019 World Rowing Championships Laila sculled her way to an Olympic qualification spot in the women’s single, placing seventh overall. She is an engineer by training and a former President of Delftsche Studenten Roei Vereeniging “Laga” – the Netherland’s second oldest student rowing club. Youssifou shares her thoughts on Tokyo 2020 as she makes her final Olympic preparations on camp in Italy.

Photo NED W4x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

How’s your season? So far it has been a season of ups and downs. We won the Europeans but in Lucerne, we became sixth and in Sabaudia fourth. We were disappointed by the last two results, but we learnt that we are a very resilient crew. We still have our eyes on the Olympic prize.

When will you go? We are flying to Tokyo on the 15th of July. We fly from Amsterdam and head straight to the athlete village.

Have you been before? Yes, we went in October 2019 with the women’s team. We went to see the Olympic village and we rowed on the Olympic course but most of the time we were just doing tourist stuff.

How do you feel? When thinking about the Olympics, I can get nervous, but I try to turn these nerves into focus. I also remind myself to enjoy this adventure as it is such a unique experience.

What are your Olympic expectations? It will probably be overwhelming but my goal is to perform to the best of my abilities in each race.

What motivates you? I like winning, and I like pushing myself to get there. Besides that, the feeling of a smooth rhythm is magical and something I try to find every stroke.

Who are the big players in your event? China, Germany, Italy, Poland and Great Britain have performed well over the last year. And the Dutch of course.

Photo NED W4x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

What sessions are you doing? Right now, we are on camp at Lago di Pusiano. It is in northern Italy and the views are amazing. We are focussing on racing speed, so we are doing longer distances at high rates.

Are you tapering? Not yet unfortunately! We still have one week of tough training ahead of us. After that, the hard work is done. I am the type of athlete that is very good at doing nothing so the taper will not be a problem for me.

How will you feel when you arrive in Tokyo? There is already a definite sense of relief that the Games is going ahead but I expect there will also be a sense of discomfort because of the resistance from the locals.

Is Covid-security a concern? There are a lot of rules, but we are informed properly and we will obey these rules to our absolute best. It might not be comfortable or fun at all times, but at the moment these are the requirements for organising and participating in such a big event.

How big is your team? The Dutch Olympic women’s team consists of 15 athletes. The atmosphere is relaxed but focussed. We are looking forward to it.

Which races are you most keen to see? The eight races are in my opinion the most spectacular events. The speed of the boats and the machine-like movements of the rowers are almost hypnotizing to watch.

Have you done any heat-training? Before departing for camp, we did some sessions in a climate chamber. The temperature and the humidity were turned up to uncomfortable levels but after one week of training we could already feel ourselves adapting to the climate.

The racing schedule has some early starts; is that good? I am definitely not a morning person but rowing forces me to behave like one. Racing early is not my favourite but with a good preparation the time of the day should not matter.

What will you eat for breakfast on race day? Basic oatmeal with oatmilk, cinnamon and some raisins.

Photo NED W4x
Credit Benedict Tufnell