olympian & virginia native: claire collin’s
By Abe Nejad
Making the Improbable, Possible
Most of us wouldn’t dream of going to the Olympics and racing on behalf of our native country. Virginia native Claire Collin’s weathered far more than that high feat; she endured training under the cloud of COVID, an injury in 2020 to her ribs and finally having to wait for her name to show up on the United States Rowing team roster, to represent the American Rowing team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Redux Extra spoke with Claire Collins, to get the story about her experience in Tokyo and how she trained for most of her childhood, for a chance to achieve the ultimate experience for any athlete. But it wasn’t always rosy and Collins was open and honest about her experiences prior to the Olympics and her feelings about the outcome, in Japan.
Interview between Redux Extra and Claire Collins
RE– First, the obvious question for most of us who will never be selected to go to the Olympics to compete. What were your initial feelings about being selected to go to Tokyo?
CC– There’s tons of emotions that go along with it, a lot of just excitement. I honestly wanted to pinch myself when the team was named, as the process that we go through is intense. After they officially released the roster, I had to check it several times a day to make sure my name was on there.
RE– The realization that you made the team was clearly a highlight of your young career at that time, but there were clear challenges to being a young team member on the squad, tell us about that.
CC– I was the second youngest person on the Olympic team and it takes a couple of years to adjust to the level of intensity and volume and training that we do on the national team. Everyone’s bodies are different and for some of us, your body just says, hey, I need to break, and if you don’t give it a break, then it’ll make sure it’s a break. So, in the Fall of 2020, I broke my rib due to overuse and I was out for two or three months. [The two kinds of common rowing injuries are back and rib and they’re all overuse injuries]. So yeah, my injury was from rowing too much. I fully recovered by the spring of 2021, and it didn’t impact my performance in Tokyo.
But I did feel like there was an advantage by other teams that didn’t have to endure the limitations that we had, during our training program.
RE– Let’s talk about that. Some countries had less to deal with around the height of COVID and that changed the game for your training regimen, for a considerable period. What impact do you think that had on the Olympic standings?
CC– COVID really slowed down our training program. Some of the other countries that toped the medal table didn’t have the COVID restrictions that we had here in the US. We would never have gone home for six months just before the Olympics, so you’re training for years to be able to achieve a good race and a couple of months before we leave for Tokyo, we were not together. I think that may have affected us a little bit more than some of the other teams.
Normally, we’d have pre-season training, where we go to world cups for test heats and you get a regatta feeling, which as much as we race and compete against each other, it’s just a little different than just training. So most of us hadn’t raced in at least two years. It wasn’t to say that we weren’t prepared or fit enough but it’s just handling all those emotions and stress and putting together a full race, which we actually didn’t get to do very often.
But it doesn’t take away from anyone that totally earned their medals. It was really fun to see and be a part of that. Again, after not having that for a while during COVID, just to see it and be a part of the racing experience in Tokyo was a very special feeling.
RE– Let’s talk about your heats in Tokyo, as the US Rowing team didn’t medal. It sounds like you still came out with the super positive experience. Walk us through what happened there.
CC– Yeah, I think when you make the team there’s no guarantee of a medal. There’s no guarantee of speed. And so, we just tried to attack the couple of weeks we had of training that we got as best we could, solidified the team to gain more speed, and work hard and get into it and really enjoy the experience.
Honestly, we had big goals, but we definitely went into the heat thinking we were faster than we were. But I’m happy that we improved our speed and techniques in the following races. It was a bummer not to make the final, which is where you get to raise your medals but we got together and were like, you know, we have to just keep improving and that’s what we did.
So, yeah, I’m so grateful to my whole team that everyone gave it their all out there and improved every race, and got a little faster, and that’s all you can control in the whole grand scheme of it all and to not let your expectations ruin any of the experience, because it’s awesome.
RE– Going into the Olympic races, which countries were you concerned about, competitive wise, and which one was the dark horse which surprised you?
CC– When you are in the Olympics you know everyone is very competitive, as they likely won in the world championships in the previous years. Some of those world champions in our event were the Dutch, who were doing pretty well consistently, so they were going to be good. Ireland had been getting better and better as well, so they were a concern. It was definitely a mixed bag, but I would say for sure the dark horse was China, they were probably the biggest one.
RE– Let’s take a few steps back. Can you walk us through your experience as an athlete? Your experience at Princeton as a young person, graduating, and then trying to qualify for the training squad for the Olympics.
CC– Yeah, I loved my time there [at Princeton]. I really enjoyed the team. I kind of went full force into rowing, at school. There were just so many wonderful experiences and things there, great racing and great places to travel. I loved my coach so that was also a plus. When I graduated, I almost immediately started that conversation about trying out for the US national team and a week after graduation I went to the national team training center, that was in 2019. I felt pretty good about training with the national team during our IVY races in college and over the summers. I completed the under 23-year-old championships and that was pretty much a world championship for collegiate rowing athletes.
RE– After your experience in Tokyo, where do you see the team in the coming years and for the next summer Olympics?
The team is really young and really strong, positive and fun, and it’s really exciting. I think it’s a good group coming back. I think there is a cool perspective coming into the next couple of years and it’s only three years before we get ready for the next Olympics, and there’s no guarantee for anyone to make the team. What happens is we go back, rest up, and train twice a day, even on Christmas Eve. So, we won’t really get many holidays. It’s a big team around you, there’s a lot of great people and that’s super important to our success.
Claire Collins was born Nov. 29th, 1996. She is the daughter of Steve and Patti Collins, she has an older sister Faith and a younger sister Sarah. Claire’s grandfather was a member of the Princeton Class, of 1957. Claire enjoys swimming, playing the violin and baking and will likely pursue a career in Economics [her major at Princeton], after her athletic career.