Meet Olivia Carnegie-Brown, the Brookes grad rowing in the Rio Olympics

‘It still hasn’t sunk in’

Olivia Carnegie-Brown recently graduated from Oxford Brookes University. She’s not your average graduate though, because now at only 25 years old she’s joined the ranks of the GB Rowing Team competing at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. We got in touch to ask her a few questions.



Just to get it out of the way, what did you study whilst at Brookes? Did it have anything whatsoever to do with what you’re doing now?

I began studying physiotherapy and then when I got invited to train full time with the GB rowing team I moved over to Sport, Coaching and Physical Education. The lecturers were all very helpful and made the transition smooth. There was no way I was going to study physio and complete my placements whilst training from 7.30 until 4 each day.

I suppose they both had a lot to do with what I’m doing now. Rowing is the reason I became passionate about physio and I am still interested today when I visit the physio to learn more about the human body and how it responds to injury and treatment. And the other degree is pretty obvious why it has a lot to do with what I do now.

So I’ve read that you started rowing while you were still at school in Caversham. Prior to this, would you have considered yourself a very active person? Did you take part in any other sports?

I started whilst I was at school, yes. The talent ID programme, World Class Start, selected me out of the lunch queue as they went on a quest around the country to find tall people who fit the criteria on the height, weight and aerobic capacity tests.

My school didn’t row but I began training down at Reading rowing club. I was a sports scholar at Queen Anne’s and played all sports for them including lacrosse, netball, swimming, netball and tennis. I used to play county netball and I used to horse ride until I was about 14 – so quite a range of sports.


Olivia with fellow Brookes graduate and Olympian, Peter Chambers.

 What is it that made you want to get in to rowing specifically? When you started did you have a goal in mind, and did you ever see yourself getting this far?

With the talent ID programme they told me I had the physical abilities to become an Olympian one day if I worked hard enough at it. I was set up with a coach, Eira Parry, who was employed by British rowing and the programme was set to have me follow a pathway into the junior world championship team and onto U23’s.

Following this pathway successfully to Oxford Brookes filled me with confidence. Whilst I was at Brookes I had the advantage of training with such a big, enthusiastic and successful squad that I just grew from strength to strength becoming fitter, more robust and even more passionate each day.

Could you tell us about some of your proudest sporting achievements?

My first junior medal was a bronze in a four. This is where I realised the training was all worth it. Going forward a few years to a silver medal at the U23 World Championships I knew I was on the right track to get myself into the senior team, and then my first year of seniors I was selected to stroke the 8 at the World Championships in Korea and that is one of my best memories and most exciting championships until now being in Rio at the Olympics.

 What has been your biggest motivators and inspirations throughout your sporting journey?

The people who I have trained with since beginning at Reading rowing club for learning the new sport with me from scratch, the Brookes girls and boys for inspiring me how to train hard and race even harder but enjoy every second of it, and all the girls who I have trained with over the last 4 years in the senior team who have been friends and team mates. We have all pushed each other and taught each other how to be more excellent than the rest of the world and it’s paying off.


How do you keep in shape? Since you first began competing at a more professional level, have you found yourself having to adapt your diet and lifestyle to accommodate all the physical exercise you’re doing? If so, has it been difficult to get used to? Are you very strict with yourself?

The training programme is very time consuming so no there’s no time to cut corners. We eat second breakfast and lunch at our training centre in Caversham and I have dinner at home at the end of a long day. When I’m not training, I am resting and unfortunately that means I have had to make a lot of sacrifices in the past 4 years but I hope that that all pays off next week.

So making it to the Olympics is arguably the pinnacle of success for any professional athlete, what was your reaction when you realised you’d be going to Rio? How does it feel to have come this far? Also, what was the reaction of your friends/family?

I’m so proud to be representing my family and all my friends who have supported me to get where I am now. I don’t think that it has fully sunk in that I am even at the Olympic games but its so cool to be here, I am taking every day in my stride and I cant wait get racing if I’m honest.

The trialling process to get into the 8 was ridiculous and never ending so when we found out we were in, it was more a sense of being relieved than anything else. We have trained together and raced together in this combination now for a good couple of months and each phase has just been another stepping stone towards the Games.

This is your first time at the Olympics, how does it compare to what you imagined so far? Are the rumours of how bad the Olympic village and facilities in Rio true, or are the naysayers’ being too picky/judgemental in your opinion? 

We’re actually in accommodation nearer to the rowing venue so I’m not sure about that yet.


Presumably you have quite a close bond with the rest of the girls on your team? Could you describe your relationship with them, what are the group dynamics like?

We have created more of an identity for ourselves this year. It’s hard to have a group of 9 very strong headed females of all ages that really get on well together, but we do. It’s a miracle. We have hash tagged ourselves as sassy to describe our uniqueness and boldness to take on any situation on and off the water. We just work, we have all bases covered and bond together like a dream.

How do you motivate yourself and stave off nerves before competitions and big events? You must be quite used to the pressure by now, so do you have a before and after routine at all?

I know if I have practised it I can do it in racing. The nerves help me as adrenaline but any more than that would be detrimental so I block the rest out and imagine I’m back home. The real tough competition was getting into the 8, not racing the rest of the world. We can enjoy it now!


What could we expect to hear on your motivational/workout playlist?

I have a diverse playlist. I seem to enjoy a lot of deep house music.

Do you have any advice for budding athletes, and/or Brookes students in general who might be feeling a little demotivated/like they won’t get where they want to go? Also, do you ever experience moments of self-doubt, and if so, what helps you get back on track?

Being demotivated and having self doubt is very normal but its how you deal with the bad situations and what you take from them to move forward that will make you stronger. You probably learn more about yourself and your technique from the bad times than the good.

You will know in the bad times how much you want it and you may have to pull on others to help but with a bit of time management, encouragement, guidance and eventual self-motivation then you will achieve your goals. It’s not meant to be easy though, otherwise everyone would do it!