Courtesy of Dan Williamson

For most Yalies, the Olympics is a time to watch the world’s most talented athletes compete for their country. For some elite student-athletes, such as men’s heavyweight rower Dan Williamson ’23, representing their national team at the games could be a dream come true.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has halted much athletic training and competition, it has granted Williamson with a unique opportunity. At only 20 years old, he has been training for the Elite Team, the squad of rowers that is poised to represent New Zealand at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.

At Yale, Williamson and other student-athletes must balance their athletic training with academics, performing a constant juggling act. But over the past few months, Williamson has been training like a professional athlete. He took a leave of absence during both the fall and spring semesters.

“You don’t have time for anything else, and if you commit to it you’re pretty much expected to be available whenever,” Williamson said. “And to get through the volume and the intensity that these guys lay down, which is seriously impressive, it took me many, many months for my body to actually adapt and be able to handle the load here.”

Over the past few months, Williamson has been able to shadow rowers who have years more experience under their belts. Hamish Bond, a 35-year-old former rowing champion, was one of Williamson’s rowing idols growing up. Now, the two train together, vying for spots in the same boat.

Bond, a role model for Williamson, is “now like quite literally rowing in the same boat” with him, Williamson told the News from New Zealand.

Courtesy of Dan Williamson

Williamson’s efforts have proved fruitful, as he has shaved four seconds off his personal record in the 2000-meter erg test. His previous PR of 5:51 is down to 5:47, an achievement that validates Williamson’s months of hard work and dedication.

In regard to his athlete’s “Olympic quest,” Yale heavyweight head coach Steve Gladstone is nothing but supportive. With so many international rowers at Yale — about 58 percent of the heavyweight crew team hailed from outside the United States in 2019-20, the highest rate for a team at Yale and across heavyweight crews in the Ivy League — it is not uncommon for one of the Bulldogs to receive a national call-up.

“Confidence is such a huge factor in performance, and the experience that these guys are having at this point is extraordinary,” Gladstone said. “They are very young to be in this position, and it’s all good for our squad.”

Regardless of the outcome of the trials, Williamson’s experience training with accomplished rowers will be beneficial to the Yale team. Gladstone understands that his rowers, such as Williamson, will return to New Haven in better form than when they left.

“Dan and the numerous other members of our team who race internationally are quite simply extraordinary athletes and oarsmen,” heavyweight crew teammate Rudd Fawcett ’23 said. “You have to be to race at that level. It is a testament to the culture of our team and the recruiting efforts of our coaching staff that we are able to collaborate with the best young oarsmen in the world. I celebrate the strength of character and discipline demanded of all of our teammates who compete at the highest levels of rowing.”

Before he started at Yale, Williamson finished third in the under-23 men’s coxless four, with a time of 5:52.81.

Rehan Melwani | rehan.melwani@yale.edu

Correction, Mar. 12: An earlier version of this story misspelled Williamson’s name as “Wiliamson” in the headline. The error has been corrected and the story updated.