Dara finished 18th in the Men’s Single Sculls event, after placing sixth in Olympic Final CDara Alizadeh

All is now calm on the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo, as oars and shells have been stowed into storage to mark the end of a thrilling regatta. As for Dara Alizadeh, packing himself off into post-Olympics hibernation is not an option, given that his part to play in the Henley Royal Regatta begins tomorrow (12/08). But amidst this gruelling carousel of competition, Dara takes a moment to reflect on his Tokyo performance and the experience of living in the Olympic village.

“It was like an athlete’s Disney World”

Dara had five outings on the water during his stint in Tokyo, going through the repechage after placing outside of the top three in his first heat, then making his way to Final C by finishing third in the semi-final. He accomplished a steady decrease in times over the course of his races, transforming a 7:34.96 heat into a 7:09.91 final. Assessing his performance, Dara jokingly established that “broadly, I would’ve started sculling a long time ago”, as he only picked up the discipline in 2019. Otherwise, Dara recognised that “the big race for me was the semi-final, as I told myself: ‘if I can have one race, let’s have it be this one’, and get into the final”.

Despite finishing sixth in Final C, Dara earned the title of ‘18th best single sculler in the world’, which certainly has a nice ring to it. On his form in the last race, Dara claimed: “I probably front-loaded a bit, partially by design to make sure I was there at 1000m, but that’s when the other guys stepped on too”. He faced a tough field that included New Zealand’s Jordan Parry, who displaced two-time Olympic gold medalist Mahé Drysdale as the team’s representative in the event following qualifiers. As for his own qualification process, Dara acknowledged the personal importance of having an extra year to train due to the COVID-19 pandemic: “who knows if I even would’ve qualified?” He explained: “I made some huge changes during the extra year that I didn’t even conceptualise in the prior year, I had several eureka moments”.

“if I can and I’m up for it, then I would love to do Paris”

When not on the water, Dara resided in the freshly built Olympic village located in the Harumi waterfront district of Tokyo, describing it as “a mini utopia”. “It was like an athlete’s Disney World”: perhaps Yao Ming was strolling around like a towering Pluto, while Novak Djokovic ran the show as a decorated Mickey Mouse who “couldn’t get a moment’s peace”. Dara continued: “I woke up every morning to the noise of boxers down in the plaza practicing in their full sweats, and the synchronised swimmers would be rehearsing their routines on the sidewalk”. Meanwhile, playing ‘guess the sport’ was a preferred pastime for Dara and his team. A colossal Kazakh weightlifter and tiny Chinese gymnast were easy pickings, but it was ironically the rower that proved hardest to identify: “is that a runner? Maybe if they were a little bigger. It’s definitely not a water polo player or swimmer”.

Taking a break from guesswork, Dara also met the familiar faces of Cambridge’s rowing alumni for a photo by the village’s Olympic rings, which included Team GB’s Imogen Grant and Henry Fieldman, USA’s Olivia Coffey, and Denmark’s Ida Gørtz Jacobsen. Despite the chaos of the Games, Dara admitted that “I was able to follow Imogen, Olivia, Henry, and Ida, but I didn’t really get the chance to interact with them too much during the regatta”. As Dara spectated from afar, Fieldman took bronze in the Men’s Eight, Grant and Coffey placed fourth in the Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls and Women’s Eight respectively, while Jacobsen came second in Final B of the Women’s Coxless Four.


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Turning to the present, Dara resurfaces from an Olympic experience only to be immersed once again in the buzz of competition, as he prepares for his involvement in the Henley Royal Regatta tomorrow morning (10:20am BST). Representing Cambridge University Boat Club on the River Thames, he will race in the Diamond Challenge Sculls event. On his form coming into the regatta, Dara dismissed any feelings of mental or physical fatigue from the Olympics: “I feel like I’m pretty race fit, I had to do five races in a row and I’m ready to do that again”. Unlike Tokyo, Henley boasts a slightly more personal incentive for Dara: “what’s nice about this event is that my family will be able to come to this one”. Although Dara’s brother, Arya, joined Team Bermuda at the Games in a support role, on this occasion the Alizadeh crew will be able to appear in full force.

Aside from restricted viewership, the disruption of sports caused by the pandemic means that a shorter cycle of three years precedes the Paris 2024 Olympics. Dara took a hesitant stance towards potentially competing at the coming Games: “when I left Tokyo, I felt like ‘I’ve got to do this again because it was so fun’, but you forget what you have to do to get there”. Having had very little rest since the cancellation of last year’s Olympic qualifiers, Dara explained: “I had to keep training at a slightly lower intensity and that still takes its toll on you”. Ultimately, “if I can and I’m up for it, then I would love to do Paris”.

Varsity congratulates Dara on his Olympic performance and wishes him the best of luck at the Henley Royal Regatta.