Staying in Rowing after Stellar Princeton Career, Collins Heading to Olympics on U.S. Women’s 4
POWER STROKE: Claire Collins shows her form in training with the U.S. national program. Former Princeton University women’s open rowing star Collins ’19 was named to the United States Rowing Olympic Team and will row for the women’s coxless 4 later this month at the Tokyo Olympics. The rowing competition is slated for July 23-30 at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo. (Photo provided courtesy of USRowing)
By Bill Alden
After culminating a stellar career with the Princeton University women’s open rowing program in 2019 by being named a first-team All-American and helping the Tiger varsity 8 win the Ivy League crown, Claire Collins wasn’t ready to give up the sport.
“I was strong, I had some good times on the erg and we were getting some good results on the water,” said Collins, who was also named as the winner of the C. Otto von Keinbusch Award for Princeton’s top senior female athlete and was nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year during her senior campaign.
“I was still enjoying it a lot. The national team would be training in Princeton so we would see the women here every once in a while. It was inspiring. You have to listen to your gut, it is an exciting opportunity but it is a big commitment. I was having a lot of fun with the sport and I had bigger goals that solidified. This is my next goal, this is what I want to do after college.”
Following her gut, Collins joined the U.S. program, staying around Lake Carnegie to work out of the Princeton Training Center.
But as Collins was getting used to the more intense training and making a push to earn a spot in the 2020 Olympics, the pandemic halted everything and she went home to McLean, Va.
The hiatus, though, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Collins was recently selected to the United States Rowing Olympic Team and will row on the women’s coxless 4 later this month at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I am the second youngest person on the team; it takes a while even though we competed at a high level in college,” said Collins.
“On the national team, the training and the level is different. It takes most people a year or two to adjust and start responding well to it. I think having that extra year really helped me because I was more comfortable. I was adjusted, I was probably in a better mental headspace even though there were challenges.”
In making the team, Collins had to overcome another challenge, suffering a rib injury last fall before going through the grueling selection process.
“I was actually out with that injury until mid to late December and by the time we got to California in January, I was back,” said Collins.
“The selection process started with a pairs regatta; normally we would try to go and race in the World Cup races in Europe but we weren’t doing that so we created our own regatta and we did that in pairs. You had to pick your pair partner, which was kind of crazy and there are three or four races that we did. That was helpful for the coaches to not only see who was going fast but how you reacted to a regatta, high stress situation because we hadn’t been in that for a while. Then we had a 2K on the erg and we had pretty much two weeks of seat racing in the four and the eight. By the end of that process they picked an eight and a four.”
The emotions ran high for Collins when she found out that she had been picked for the U.S. women’s 4 along with Stanford alumna Grace Luczak, former Cal standout Kendall Chase, and Madeleine Wanamaker, a former Wisconsin star.
“It was awesome to be able to call my parents,” recalled Collins.
“It was such a special moment. Even though I went through the whole process, you are pinching yourself. I had to look at my name on a list on the roster several times that day just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming or making it up in my head.”
Over the last few weeks of June, the boat has been undergoing an arduous training regimen.
“We have two or three sessions a day, six days a week,” said Collins.
“A typical day is two rows, sometimes it is two rows and a lift. Sometimes we do some erging so one of those rowing sessions will be an erg session instead depending on the water and what kind of training that we want to get done. A lot of it is on the water on Carnegie, it is about 2 ½ to 3 hours in the morning from around 7 to 10, and then the afternoon session is about 2 to 4.”
The quartet has been bonding through all that time together on the water.
“It is just such a fun boat just naturally; there is a really great chemistry between the personalities and the approach to training,” said Collins.
“All of us went through the same grueling process, so it puts this great chip on your shoulder. We all know that everyone in there was seat-raced and earned their spot. There is no questioning in terms of that stuff. It is a lot of good focus and effort, everyone is on the same page every single stroke. We are very understanding, there is a lot of fun joking around. Everyone is super excited in a good way, serious and motivated.”
Currently, the U.S. rowers are working in a training camp in Honolulu, Hawaii, as they make final preparations for the rowing competition that starts on July 23.
“We are there for a week to acclimate,” said Collins. “The weather here is pretty similar to Tokyo. It is pretty hot and humid. We are also there for the time change.”
Once in Tokyo, the rowers will be limited to their accommodations at the Olympic Village and their venue at the Sea Forest Waterway.
“We have to leave within 48 hours of finishing our competition, so we can’t watch some of our own teammates race at the end,” said Collins.
“Usually rowing is in the first week so you can go to other events, meet other people, and go to the closing ceremonies. We have to be out of there. I wish it was a normal Olympics but I am still excited.”
While the U.S. rowers haven’t competed on the Tokyo layout, Collins and her teammates aren’t concerned by that lack of familiarity.
“The course is in the middle of the bay and there is an overpass near it so it is not the most beautiful,” said Collins
“It can be pretty fast, there is supposed to be a predominant tail wind there. It is supposed to be a little choppy but not crazy in terms of waves. They had the junior world regatta and an Asian qualifier there so they have tested it out. Besides from it being pretty hot in the summer and that it is not a super flat course, I haven’t heard anything wild.”
In a competition that figures to be wild as there a lot of unknowns in the absence of regular World Cup rowing over the last two years, Collins believes her boat can excel by just focusing on itself.
“We need to go as fast as we can; the selection process, according to some veterans here, was the most grueling one they have ever been through at the training center,” said Collins.
“We just have to know that we pushed past certain limits doing that and that all of that is in us. We have to take it all the way to the line and trust in it.”
By trusting the process over the last two years, Collins has developed more and more faith in her ability to push through limits on the water.
“You would think after eight or 10 years and being on the national team and making the Olympic team, that I would know everything and I really don’t. I am still learning things every day,” said Collins.
“In the past couple of years, I have really honed in on this day-by-day mentality, trying to improve every day and be really in tune with my body and with the boat. It is getting those senses more hyperactive and just training in a smart way. I observe the veterans that have been doing this year after year. I also feel that having a year under my belt, I was more confident in advocating for myself, even speaking up in my boat after a practice. Just those little pieces of confidence have also come in this year too.”