“I don’t want to disappoint myself, just row as hard as I can.” After her last training sessions before the PKT, Meulenbeld was clear. Whatever happens in Italy, it won’t be for lack of trying. So, despite the huge disappointment of missing out on a ticket, there is also pride. “I gave everything, as a team we gave everything, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” she says on the phone. “We rowed really well. We got a Dutch record and they were our best races so far. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough.”

Tiny difference

A top two place during the PKT in Italy would have been enough to go to Tokyo. Eventually, after being in third place during most of the final, they came fourth. Favourites Canada and Brazil were just too good. The South Americans were the main target for Meulenbeld and her team, particularly after Friday’s rounds. “We had a really difficult draw during the preliminary round on Thursday, because we were up against Canada and Brazil.”

Only number 1, Canada, went straight through to the final, but a day later the Dutch para-rowers got a place in the final. “We were less than one and a half seconds behind Brazil. That tiny difference may have given us more hope for Saturday than was realistic,” Meulenbeld is honest about their chances. In the final, the difference between them and the Brazilians was ultimately 18 seconds. “They were so much faster than in the first two races – we’ve never rowed that fast.”

World Championships and Paris

Half a week after the failed adventure, Meulenbeld is obviously still disappointed. After eighteen months of hard work, a ticket for Tokyo is now definitively ruled out. “It’s a strange feeling, like a grieving process. But I’m also raring to go again.”

Because failure to get to the Games doesn’t mean no more rowing. On the contrary. “All the experiences have been so good and I still have the ambition to go to Paris (which will be hosting the Games in 2024, ed.). Even if I’ve graduated by then. And the World Championships in Shanghai start after the Games, which means we must get back to training. So we’re still going more or less in the direction of Tokyo this year.”