Olivia Loe might be the perfect example of persistence beats resistance. After years as a reserve for Rowing New Zealand’s Elite team, her first year in the big time proved to be a winning one.
After constantly being overlooked for selection by national sporting bodies, most athletes find themselves looking for a spot in the workplace instead. But sometimes a bit of patience and a lot of hard work eventually pays off.
Olivia Loe is the ultimate example of this. Having come close to tasting victory at under 23 level multiple times over the years (picking up a bronze in 2012 with the women’s quadruple sculls and silver with the women’s four in 2014), since then she’s found herself just on the outside of the selection list as a reserve in 2015 and 2016.
However the 25-year-old’s breakthrough season has proved that hard work pays off, teaming up with Brooke Donoghue (21) in the women’s double sculls.
The young pairing had an unbeaten season, winning World Cup gold medals in Poznan and Lucerne, along with a Henley Royal Regatta win. At the World Rowing Championships in Florida, Olivia finally realised her dream of becoming a World Champion, winning in a time of 6:45.080, 1.5s ahead of nearest competitors USA (both athletes 34 years old). Olivia and Brooke forged ahead in the middle thousand to dominate the field and set a marker for the next Olympic cycle.
Olivia is a not your average athlete. Heading into the World Championships as both a favourite and rookie would be enough to frighten most athletes, but for her it was all part of the experience.
“To be honest I didn’t realise I could be so nervous, but I find nerves comforting. It means that I actually believe I can do it.”
Focusing on the process and enjoying the moment were critical to overcoming the pressure.
“We never focused on winning. It obviously was always the end goal but it was more about the processes.”
She felt the recipe for victory was simple and that she just needed to trust in her training.
“I knew the rhythm, the plan, the plan b. We had our jobs to do and we just did them.”
Being repeatedly overlooked for selection a was brutal at the time, but turned out to be just the fire she needed to propel her to the next level.
“I think I’m a little stubborn. When someone tells me no, or that I’m not good enough, it winds me up. I have to prove them wrong. It can make life challenging but ultimately rewarding.”
This stubbornness was all part of battle-hardening and ultimately made her a stronger athlete, but the road of a reserve is by no means easy.
“I guess when I think back to my time as a reserve it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride emotionally. It made me question myself a lot.
“But every time I didn’t make it, I realised just how much I wanted it. I think what I took from those years was that it wasn’t going to be handed to me, and if I was actually going to make it I had to give them a no excuses to not pick me.”
Her goals in the sport are simply “to be the best,” which means taking Olympic Gold in Tokyo, but she realises that’s easier said than done.
“I used to think that once you started winning, it would somehow become easier, but it doesn’t.
“You have to keep pushing the standards and your limits because you can guarantee that your competition is doing the same.”
It’s this type of attitude that real champions talk about so often and one that will be critical if Olivia is to achieve her lofty goals.
Photos by Steve McArthur, Rowing Celebration