Next Stop Tokyo: Olivia Loe

Tokyo 2020 Athlete Interviews

3 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Steve McArthur & Benedict Tufnell
Published 02.07.21

Olivia Loe is a two-time World Champion in the women’s double scull. She is set to return to international competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but this time as stroke of New Zealand’s women’s quadruple scull. With less than three weeks until Tokyo 2020 Olivia shares her thoughts on the upcoming Olympics.

Photo Olivia Loe
Credit Steve McArthur

What racing have you done this season? Not a lot. We’ve done our Winter Series; it’s a three day event for all the New Zealand crews to race off against each other and we use prognostics to determine the ranking. Elites, U23, U21s, and juniors all come to Karapiro to race. The starts are staggered and the idea is that we come together at around 500-meters to go to ensure a flat-out sprint finish. It is a good opportunity to rehearse race situations and scenarios.

When do you fly to Japan? We fly to Osaka on the 10th [of July] for a training camp on Lake Biwa. We are there for about eight days before moving to the Olympic village in Tokyo. When I’m on tour I’m a bit of a sheep so I’m not entirely sure of the exact dates! I do know that once we’ve finished racing we have 48-hours to leave the athlete village. I’ll be packing up to leave while other teammates wait to race – which is bizarre.

Will you go straight home? No, we are booked into a hotel. Flights out of Japan are very rare so the New Zealand Olympic Committee have chartered three flights. I’ll be on the first one that is due to leave on August 1st, and we will start our two-weeks of managed isolation in the hotel in Japan. I’ve decided to learn pilates and [golf] putting in the hotel room!

What do you expect the atmosphere to be like at Tokyo? It will be weird. I’m definitely excited to see friends from other teams – obviously I haven’t seen them since 2019. I’m very excited, but I think the atmosphere will be a bit cautious and maybe a bit dry because we will have the nerves but not all the fun-hype that normally comes along with the nerves. The hype normally balances it out and give it the work hard play hard fun vibes.

Will conditions in Tokyo be a factor? I didn’t even notice rowing on salt water when we went to Rio and I can’t remember having any strong feelings about that. Obviously Tokyo is going to be hot. Right now, in New Zealand, we are in the middle of winter. Yesterday morning it was freezing, it was about -1°C so it will be a big jump in temperature when we arrive. But we’ve been doing heaps of heat training and we’ve got all of our tried and tested protocols so that should help. With any conditions you’ve got to remember that everybody else is suffering too. It is what it is; you mustn’t overthink it.

How do you heat train? New Zealand Rowing installed plastic walls around our erg gym and we have these big heat blowers. The temperature gets to ~33°C. When the men’s sweep team and the women’s quad starts erging the humidity rises to 85+%. It is disgusting. Honestly, if you walked in halfway through, the floors are balling. It is so hot and sweaty. It’s best to go in with the boys because you don’t notice it at the start, but if you go in after them you realise how hot it is; better to just get involved. The other day we warmed up on the ergs in the hot gym, and then went on the lake to do our pieces – it was 1°C outside and quite a shock!

What’s the target for Tokyo? It is hard to say because not only have I not raced since 2019 but I’m racing in a totally new field – one that I’ve not followed closely. I don’t really have a target. I would love to win. I feel like all rowers are always competing to win. I’d like us do some good racing – we can see where we stand after the heats and go from there.

What’s it like moving from the double to the quad? I spent four years working with a team towards a goal. And now, the goalposts have shifted. It’s hard. But for all the differences it’s still rowing and it’s still racing. The goal hasn’t changed but the boat class has and I’m excited to represent my country at the Olympics.

Photo Olivia Loe (stroke) and Brooke Donoghue win the W2x final; World Rowing Championships, Linz, Austria. 2019.
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Who are the big players? China are the ones-to-watch based on this season, and they also won the 2019 World Championships. After that you’ve got the Dutch; the Polish; and the Germans. Those three crews are all in the mix. Hopefully we can just slot in… at the top!

What drives you? I love racing. I love the whole experience of racing, the nerves; the hype; and the attitude that comes with racing internationally. It’s the whole thing: I live for it. I’m hugely motivated to not let my teammates down and to make sure I do my absolute best for them. I always work harder for somebody else than I do for myself. I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of team sports and having a team around me. That’s what drew me to rowing. It is so hard that in order to survive you have to put a lot of faith in the people around you; that’s cool.

Are you tapering? No, not at all. I cannot wait. We are doing a lot of speed work but we haven’t backed off the mileage. It’s a horrible mix. There’s a lot of VO2 max in each session but we are still out rowing for an hour or two. It’s fun but we are definitely loading it up. We are lucky to have a big competitive squad. We’re all based at Karapiro and we use each other as pace boats and training partners. The women’s quad goes side-by-side with the men’s double a lot. We have a good mix of people to line up against.

Are concerned by the local opinions held in Japan? Some are uncomfortable with so many athletes arriving and we know that they are cautious about us coming into their space. We will be very respectful and I’m sure that we would feel the same way if it were the other way around. For the Biwa training we stay in a hotel and they have cleared two stories for us. There are local volunteers who will join our bubble and we don’t go anywhere else. Our Covid-19 experience here in New Zealand has been very different to the rest of the worlds. We had one short and intense lockdown and since then we’ve been living life like normal. So, in the last month we’ve been practising wearing face masks all of the time. I know is very normal elsewhere but not for us. We’re trying to be as prepared as we can be. When it comes to the Olympics, you’ve got to expect it not to be the most convenient of experiences. You’ve just got to go with it.