McLean Olympian shares behind-the-scenes experience at Tokyo games

After facing some disappointment in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this year, McLean resident and Olympic rower Claire Collins has her sights set on the Paris games in 2024.

Collins, a Princeton University graduate, rowed on the Women’s 4 team. Team USA didn’t medal in the event, but Collins said, overall, the Olympic experience was still “awesome.”

What was it like being at the Olympics? It’s such a unique and rare experience, so I’m really curious what day-to-day life between big events was like.

While it wasn’t a normal Olympics because of all the COVID protocols, the atmosphere and energy was still awesome. It was fun to dress up in Team USA outfits and walk around the [Olympic] Village and head to meals. Because we couldn’t see any other sports or really mingle that much, the dining hall was probably the most fun place. We were still allowed to eat there, so you got to see tons of athletes from all over. We were also still able to trade pins with people from other countries and sports, so that was a fun way to meet other athletes.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to see other sports or go outside of the rowing venue or the village, so we had fun at the Team USA building and around the village.

Overall, how do you feel about the results of the race?

I am a little disappointed because I still believe our boat is faster than at least the first two races we had. Our final was definitely a better race, but still I don’t think it was quite our best. However, you are never going to get a perfect race. Considering the crazy year of COVID we had, the fact we didn’t get to race at all before we raced at the Olympics (which meant many people in our boat hadn’t raced in years), and that our boat was put together 6 weeks before the Games, I am very proud of what we did there. We learned from and improved each race and came out with a good finish.

When you’re in McLean, do you train on the Potomac? What’s that like?

I actually have barely rowed in the D.C. area. I went to boarding school and then to Princeton, so when I was home for the pandemic last summer, it was the first time I actually spent time on the Potomac. I rowed out of Potomac Boat Club and they were very welcoming. It was neat to actually row where I live finally after rowing all over the US and the world.

What’s next for you now that you’re back from Tokyo?

I am enjoying some vacation. When we are training in the years leading up to the Olympics we don’t even really get holidays off, so I am really excited for some real vacation and traveling coming up. Long term, I am looking forward to training to make the Paris 2024 games in 3 years, so I will be back to rowing and the team later this fall. But I will be doing some work and helping advance my career hopefully along the way.

You graduated from Princeton with a degree in economics. Is rowing your main career or do you work in something different?

Since I graduated in 2019, rowing has been my main “career.” However, I have done some work for 2 different startups and I am looking forward to focusing a little more on my career path in the next few years. I am interested in pursuing work in finance or the business and investing side of healthcare.

What kind of impact did the delay from the pandemic have? What was it like dealing with the pandemic protocols in Tokyo?

It had a big impact.

First off, while we train intensely all the time, the year leading up to the Olympics is especially intense, and it is totally unusual that we go through that process twice.

Secondly, I would not usually spend 6 months at home during a year (I usually get a week or two), so that was very unique and created its own challenges but also bonuses too, getting to spend time with family.

Lastly, while our focus and effort was always there, our training was disrupted quite a bit. We rowed in singles from March of 2020 through to February of 2021, meaning we did not even get to practice or train in the boats that we would be racing until a couple months before the Games.

Half of our team got COVID in spring of 2020 and one teammate tested positive in the fall of 2020. Each of these events sent people into bubbles and prevented us from seeing each other or operating normally. Luckily, we got our vaccines in the spring of 2021, and while that was amazing, that even paused some of our training briefly while people recovered from some of the side effects.

Emotionally, it was distracting, but I am proud of how our team handled it and kept things in perspective. There was little complaining and we all understood how lucky we were to be safe and healthy and still doing what we enjoy.

But for our success at the Games, at least in our sport, it was evident that the countries that handled the pandemic relatively well had greater success as a team. Obviously success is measured in different ways, so in our pursuit, I think there were a lot of successes, even just getting there and being able to compete.

I felt very safe in Tokyo. We had a long processing segment to get from the plane to the Village, but once there we tested every day and had a health screening app we filled out daily. We wore masks everywhere. There were tons of sanitizing stations. There were plexiglass barriers in the dining hall and you had to wear plastic gloves to get your food.

The Japanese did an amazing job, not just with COVID but with organization and still making the games special and exciting. All the volunteers were so welcoming and excited to see us. It was really special.

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