Rowena Meredith and her fellow members of the Australian Women’s Quad Sculls crew had all of Mosman on the edge of their seats during the recent Tokyo Olympics. The Meredith family are long-time locals (Rowena’s Dad Chris Meredith is well-known local photographer This is Balmoral) and the Mosman Living Facebook community was kept up to date as Rowena and her teammates progressed through the rounds, all the way to the final, and then to the podium! We chatted to Rowena, now back home in Mosman, about her Olympic experience.
Congratulations on your Olympic bronze medal! Mosman Living was abuzz with news of your journey to the final, with regular updates enjoyed by our members. Were you aware while over in Tokyo of the support you had at home?
I think when you get to the pointy end of the season and are gearing up for some important competition it’s important to have a bit of tunnel vision. I know I had the support of my family and friends back home, but no, I didn’t really know how far and wide it had gone to the Mosman community.
Tell us about your journey to qualify for Tokyo – was it a help or a hindrance that the Games were delayed by a year?
The highs and lows of the lockdown can rock anyone’s journey. We were all in the midst of training very hard when it got shut down for a year. But knowing that everyone was in the same position globally weirdly made it easier to continue to train. To actually get to Tokyo though, I was selected into a crew to travel to Switzerland in May to try and get one of the last remaining spots at the Final Qualification Regatta. Luckily, we did achieve this and booked our ticket to the Olympics from there. Travelling overseas pre-Olympics allowed us to see what how the rest of the world was coping with Covid and what we could expect in Tokyo.
How was the atmosphere while you were over there, given the lack of spectators allowed? Were you able to participate in the Opening or Closing ceremonies? What was life in the Olympic Village like?
Rowing isn’t a widely publicised sport. So when we compete domestically, we don’t usually have a whole lot of spectators who watch us (particularly at senior level). So when they said spectators would be banned from the venues, as sad as it was, it didn’t really affect us hugely. Luckily though, it enabled us to focus even more on the job at hand (racing). The stands were also filled with other team mates and support staff, so we did have some cheers over the line!
Unfortunately we did not participate in either ceremony. The Opening Ceremony was late on the day of our first race, and we left Tokyo before the Closing Ceremony. Life in the village was unparalleled to anything I have been in before. It was such an awesome atmosphere to be with a huge group of people who were all in Japan solely for the purpose of sport. The Aussie building was also great, such positive vibes and great areas to hang out with the rest of the team and watch the competitions (while social distancing!)
As for your crew’s performance… what a magnificent underdog story it was! Ranked 9th in the world, having to make the Olympic final via a repechage, being behind for much of the race, then storming home for a brilliant 3rd to secure the bronze medal. Describe it from your perspective.
There is no denying that I wanted to come home with a gold medal, but you do also set realistic goals for your racing too and we knew we were in with a shot to make it onto the podium. So in the middle of the race when we were side by side with the Polish we knew that was a great indication it was close for the medals. However we didn’t know the Germans had made a mistake so close to the line and personally I didn’t know we got over the line in third until one of my crew mates shouted to us “We got Bronze!!” just after we stopped rowing. So it was all a mystery until we finally rested, which I think is a good indication of how tunnel vision you can become in a race, just to make sure you are solely focused on your own and your crew’s performance.
You rowed for many years for the Mosman Rowing Club – tell us about your connection to the Club and to the Mosman area in general.
I learnt to row at Mosman Rowing Club for its close proximity to my home and also its great learn-to-row programs. Rowing there was instrumental to my professional career and really facilitated me to get onto national teams. The Mosman community has also been hugely supportive of my career. I have done several fundraisers in the past for overseas competitions and the Mosman community has always helped out as much as they could. On top of that, it’s also amazing to be able to train in such a stunning place. Who wouldn’t want to head down to Balmoral for a swim post-training, or a jog up to Middle Head to spot the Harbour mid run?
What’s next for you?
I’m not 100% sure what’s next for me. I’m currently stuck into my uni degree (Paramedicine) so that takes up some of my lockdown hours. But I’m slowly getting back into some training. Just seeing what I find interesting and where I get joy from. I haven’t put any pressure on myself to make decisions right here, but just to see if Paris 2024 is where the ball will roll me.
Main image: Chris Meredith