Martin Barakso

Club: OUBC

Height: 195cm

School: Brentwood College School (high school) Princeton University (college)

International rowing record: 2014 World Rowing Under 23 Champion in 4+, 2015 Pan-American Games Champion in 8+, Competed for Canada at the 2015, 2018 and 2019 World Rowing Championships, 3rd place at 2019 World Rowing Cup II in M8+

Year you first started rowing: 2007

How have you coped this year?

There were certainly some dark days and in January I often felt that there would not be a race. It sounds corny, but all you can do is continue training and keep pushing on. If there hadn’t been a race, you would know that you had done everything possible to put yourself in a position to win, and that would have been a victory in itself. It is all about your mindset.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

We were definitely able to build a strong team culture throughout lockdown. We had team workouts on Zoom, and we all kept in touch via our team group chat. It isn’t the same as in person, but we have been able to keep up the banter online. We also had weekly calls with alumni and hearing their stories and having their support has also brought the team closer together.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

I have been rowing for fourteen years, and I have done my fair share of erging. But I have never trained for more than a week or two on my own. Training in isolation was worse than expected and it really made me realize how valuable it is to have your teammates beside you each day. It is so much easier to push yourself when you can see your teammate’s erg screen!

What was your lockdown training set up?

I did a lot of erging in the garden behind my house during the winter. It was a never-ending struggle to time my training to avoid the rain. There were a few beautiful sunsets that I was able to watch, which certainly made things better. I also tried to go on as many bike rides as I could. It was a good decision to bring my road bike over from Canada and break up the monotony of erging.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I don’t get nervous for races anymore. I know that your performance in a race is a reflection of your preparation and how hard you have worked in the past. I have done the same warm-up for five years, so I just stick to my warm-up routine and visualize key moments in the race where I can break the competition.

The biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has clearly been the mental aspect associated with the Covid uncertainty. This is definitely the hardest year of training I have ever done. Training for months in my room alone without that fixed goal to work towards was so mentally taxing. One of the greatest lessons you learn through rowing is perseverance, so if we are successful in the Boat Race it will be that much more satisfying to have overcome the challenges associated with Covid.

The toughest session?

The toughest session we do are the classic interval workouts on the erg – 2 x 5km, 5x 3 minutes, or 3x 5 minutes. You can make them as hard as you want to and doing a couple of those sessions each week pays dividends.

The best day, so far?

The best day of the campaign so far was Trial VIIIs. Although my boat lost, we put a lot of pressure on the other boat and to see them row through us after we were a length up was actually quite positive – it showed that the team has the tenacity and perseverance needed to win the race. It was great to see the team step up and deliver a strong performance with only a week of preparation.

Only the Blue Boat races on the 4th April 2021: What’s it like splitting the squad?

It is bittersweet. Obviously, everybody wants to have the Boat Race go ahead and everyone understands the situation, but I wish that we could have a larger group of guys to share in the experience. It is not an easy situation, but we are still one team and will continue to strengthen the bonds between everybody.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

It is definitely strange. Rowing is the ultimate team sport, and although there are only nine team members in the Blue Boat, everyone plays an important part in raising the competitive standard of the team. It is a weird feeling not having Isis and Osiris there to train with us each day, but I know that they are training hard on land and I look forward to supporting them in the lead up to their respective races.

How did it feel getting back on the water?

It was one of the best feelings I have had in my rowing career to get back on the water and have the weight of uncertainty lifted off my shoulders. Although we were only off the water for two and a half months, it felt like a year. I know how hard the coaches, staff, alumni and Boat Race Company worked to make this race happen, and I can’t thank them enough for getting us a month on the water to prepare for the race.

Why do you want to beat Cambridge?

I have watched the Boat Race since I was fourteen and have wanted to compete for Oxford for twelve years. Four alumni from my high school, Brentwood College, competed for Oxford, and in the ninth grade I set the goal to win the race with Oxford. Winning the race would finally realize that long-standing goal.