Several TU Delft top athletes have a chance to compete in the Olympic Games. What are their lives like and where do they stand? Part 6: rower Laila Youssifou.
Laila Youssifou: “I had an idyllic vision of the Olympics.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Several TU Delft top athletes have a chance to compete in the Olympic Games. What are their lives like and where do they stand? Part 6: rower Laila Youssifou.

Lees in het Nederlands 

  • Who: Laila Youssifou, 2 January 1996 (25 years)
  • Study: Civil Engineering, from 2014
  • Sport: Rowing
  • Club: D.S.R.V. Laga
  • Team: ANRT (Aegon Nationaal RoeiTeam), double four
  • Position: bow
  • Status: boat qualified for Tokyo

What are your sporting and student lives like?
“I earned my bachelor’s more than a year ago. I planned to put my study on hold in the run-up to the Games and start my master’s in September. When the Games were postponed, I registered again and did a few modules of my master’s. I didn’t like the idea of not working on my study at all for a year. We also didn’t know if the Games would be postponed or cancelled. I recently stopped my studies again to concentrate entirely on Tokyo.”

Is anything different because of corona?
“The biggest difference is the training camps abroad. We now prefer to drive there by bus instead of fly. When we get back we need to go into quarantine, well, a luxury version of quarantine as we can still train on the Bosbaan. We go directly to the warehouse, take a boat, get on the water and immediately after training go straight home. The competitions themselves are pretty minimalist. You turn up where you are supposed to be and that’s about it.”

‘I can only train properly if I tell myself that the Olympics will go ahead’

The Games were postponed by a year and we still have to wait and see if they will go ahead. Does this affect your motivation?
“I can only train properly if I tell myself that they will go ahead. It is a white lie for your own good with the highest goal you can achieve in rowing. That is the life of a top athlete. Doing anything less than 100% is pointless.”

In April you retained the European title. Do you have the perfect crew to win the Olympics?
“There are no guarantees in competing in top competitions. You put so much pressure on your body and something can go wrong all the time. But I do want to be part of this team. What Tokyo will bring us, nobody knows.”

What are your expectations?
“I had an idyllic vision of the Olympics. It would be the biggest Games ever and I would be surrounded by family and friends. You hear wonderful stories from people who have competed before, such as seeing famous sportsmen like Usain Bolt stroll by, for example. This will be very different now, but I will just be happy if they go ahead. In the end, you do it for the sport of rowing itself.”

Do you miss the student life?
“I started competitive rowing when I was quite young. I stopped for two years because I really wanted to experience the freedom of student life. But I started to miss rowing and started again. I see myself as a better athlete now than before as I made a conscious decision to resume rowing the second time.”

Olympic TU Delft rowers
Apart from Youssifou, Proteus rowers Roos de Jong (double) and alumni Ellen Hogerwerf (coxless four ) will also be at the starting line in Japan. The women’s eight, with Laga’s Dieuwertje den Besten – featured in this series – on board, did not qualify for Tokyo in mid-May.

Also read the other parts of this series: