TEAM TTO rower Felice Aisha Chow said she was more relieved than excited when she booked her ticket to the July 23-August 8 Tokyo Olympics despite a challenging re-scheduled final on Friday.
With the Americas Continental Qualification Regatta finally stroking off in Rio de Janeiro Thursday - after the world governing body for the sport, FISA, had postponed the event several times previously due to the Covid-19 pandemic - Chow successfully overcame the cancellation of the final day, scheduled for yesterday.
Authorities there locked down the state in a wave of new Covid-19 restrictions in Brazil, causing organisers to move up the final of the women’s 2000m single sculs to Friday afternoon.
In her preliminary heat Thursday, the 2019 Pan American Games silver medallist for the event got off to a rough start, finishing third in eight minutes .750 seconds (8:00.750) behind Paraguay’s Alejandra Alfonso (7:52.580) and Puerto Rico’s Veronica Toro Arana (7:57.630), meaning she now required a repechage to advance to the crucial final.
Argentina’s Maria Sol Ordas (8:11.620) and Beatriz Cardoso (8:12.100) were fourth and fifth respectively.
In Friday morning’s repechage, the California, USA-based rower rebounded powerfully, posting what would be the fastest time of the regatta to win comfortably in 7:48.860, defeating Cuba’s Milena Venegas Cansio (7:52.300), Cardoso (8:00.900), Peru’s Adriana Sanguineti Velasco (8:08.900) and Nicaragua’s Evidelia Gonzalez Jarquin (8:12.550), in that order to qualify for the final.
With the announcement of the lock-down cancelling the final day yesterday, organisers moved the final to Friday afternoon, affording Chow and the other repechage qualifiers only an estimated four hours’ break before the main event. The automatic qualifiers from Thursday’s heats benefited from an additional day.
With the top five spots in the final eligible for Tokyo selection, a still less-than-fully-recovered Chow battled to third in 8:13.91, behind winner Mexico’s Kenia Lechuga Alanis in 8:04.62 and Alfonso (8:09.82), thus securing one of the previous 29 Olympic spots on offer worldwide, available to 156 countries under the FISA umbrella.
“This Olympic qualifier was a little bit different from the first one I ever went to five years ago,” Chow said. “So my first Olympic qualifier, I had no idea if I could make it so when I did, it was just pure joy. This qualifier I think it was just more pressure for myself because I knew I should be a serious contender, so that was a lot more expectations on my behalf, to not screw anything up. So there were some different anxieties this time compared to my last qualifier but basically when I made it, it was a mix of relief and pure happiness. And I am already moving on to think about what the next steps are.”
The TTO rower, who made her Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, said she only realised how terrible her start in the heat was after doing some video analysis post-event.
“It was so crazy, so shocking. I think I totally miscalibrated the intensity of the start. Maybe part of that is that it’s been more than a year that I have done any official racing,” the 2018 Centra American Games (CAC) bronze medallist assessed.
The 44-year old athlete, who resumed the sport after a ten-year hiatus, said she totally committed to correcting the mistakes in the “rep” (repêchage) and executed to achieve the fastest time and the win in case the re-scheduled finals were cancelled because of bad weather. The organisers would then have had to resort to rankings to determine Olympic qualifiers.
With the disadvantage of an earlier than planned final, Chow knew she “had to gun for it,” embarking on a good start with a solid middle passage before holding onto the third spot despite striking one of the buoys in her lane a few hundred metres out.
“I had a bobble and I decided ‘hear what, let’s just finish’, let me just be conservative to maintain my line, to maintain my place and so I was thrilled that I was still able to hold and keep that third spot and get a bronze despite not sprinting.” Chow said.
Chow now transitions immediately back to training mode, planning a base aerobic endurance phase that will taper off to more high-intensity, race-specific work in the weeks leading up to Tokyo. Those workouts and training plans are to be coordinated by her two coaches - former world champion and Olympian Sarah Throwbridge and Monica Hilcu, head coach at Redwood Scullers Redwood City, California.
“I am definitely excited to see how I can do in Tokyo,” Chow said, describing the last Rio Olympics as tremendous and overwhelming.
Chow reckoned she didn’t have too many racing goals for Rio because she was too inexperienced a rower racer at that level and not in tune with her capabilities.
“For the Tokyo Games, I am now in touch with myself, my competitors and my speed so I do have some goal marks that I am hoping to hit there. So every day I will be training with those goals in mind with the hope that I can achieve my own personal goals at the Olympics,” Chow said. She added that if Covid-19 travel and health restrictions permit, she will attend some World Cup racing ahead of Japan.
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Canoe/Kayak Federation, Meryl See Tai said it was a significant achievement for Chow, an associate director, cell biology at FibroGen - a company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of novel therapeutics to treat serious unmet medical needs.
“It’s been a challenging year for everybody ...she has a full-time job and especially with lock-down she had to shift a lot of her training, set up a home gym and so on. So it’s a real triumph over adversity kind of thing and it’s brilliant on every level.”