Level-headed and confident, Michael Brakes is in a good place a month out from the Olympics. The delayed 2020 games have dealt athletes a rocky road to Tokyo, but Michael’s feeling steady.
The 2015 AIMES Sports Award winner leaves for Japan in mid-July to compete in the men’s eight. In timely fashion, the former Westlake rower and his crew have hit form, finishing on top in May’s international regatta in Lake Lucerne.
After beginning in the eight-man boat, Michael changed course to compete in the men’s pair with rowing partner Tom Murray, winning the World Rowing Cup in 2018 and World Rowing Championship silver in 2019. He’s now back in the bigger boat again, enjoying the ‘powerhouse’ fourth seat.
“It’s been an interesting pathway,” he understates, of switching back to the larger boat as well as navigating the world of competitive sport in the time of COVID. Travelling to Switzerland recently brought new challenges. “We were unanimous in deciding we should go and compete. We had to be very vigilant while we were there, however, as there were a lot of COVID cases in Switzerland. But this close to the Olympics, we felt we had to take any opportunity we could to compete. The threat of COVID wasn’t going to stop us getting the job done!”
Rowing machines were brought into quarantine facilities and great care was taken to maintain a training schedule that was as normal as possible. “It was incredibly good planning by Rowing New Zealand,” says Michael.
“We were concerned that the quality of the training wouldn’t be there, given everything, and we were worried about injuries. But we did lots of mobility work and stretches and we were very careful with our training. As it turned out, we qualified and we won, and we came out fitter, in spite of it all!”
Tokyo will be Michael’s second Olympics Games, following a sixth place in the men’s eight in Rio. He’s feeling more ready this time around. “I feel a lot more level-headed going into this one,” he says.
“I was 21, going to Rio. A lot of life happens between 21 and 26! I know more about the event, the media, the occasion and part of that is the knowing that it’s just another race. It’s about doing as you know how. I think in all regards, I am in a better place this year. As a crew, we’re feeling good and we’re very confident going into the Games.
“The support I’ve received from AIMES really does mean a lot; it really does. It’s threefold: the support in terms of the messages I receive – it really means a lot to have the support from home. The connections and networking – to be linked up with people in different areas who can offer you advice is amazing. People are so happy to help! It’s a lot more valuable than people who offer the advice realise!
“And finally, the financial support goes a long way. 95% of athletes in New Zealand do it because it’s something they love, not for the money. That is what makes sport such a cool environment to be in.”
A civil engineering degree is a work in progress, alongside Michael’s punishing training schedule, and he’s recently completed media training in order to launch himself on the public speaking circuit. His first engagement will be at his old school on his return from the Olympics. He won’t be the only one hoping to visit Westlake with some precious metal to show later this winter.
Michael Brake, 2015 AIMES Award (Sport), sponsored by AUT Millennium.
Micheal, front row, second from right
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