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Why Going To Paris Will Be A New Experience For Two-Time Olympic Rower Kara Kohler

by Lisa Costantini

Kara Kohler competes in women's single sculls during the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Rowing on Apr. 07, 2024 in Sarasota, Fla. (Photo by Row2k)

Two-time Olympic rower Kara Kohler might have just earned her spot on the U.S. team headed to the Olympic Games Paris 2024, but these Games will be unlike any other for her.

The first time the 33-year-old punched her ticket to an Olympics was in 2012 when she competed in the quadruple sculls, bringing home bronze with her three boatmates. Almost 10 years later she was back wearing the rings, this time in Tokyo after a postponed Games due to COVID-19 where there were no fans and family allowed. There she competed in the single — after making the switch in 2018 — and finished in ninth.

And now in Paris, she will be back in the boat alone, looking to land atop the podium for the first time in the W1x.

“I get goosebumps,” Kohler said after coming off the water at the 2024 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials — Rowing in Sarasota, FL, having crossed the finish line in first and punching her ticket to Paris. “It’s my third Olympic team, but it still feels like making my first.”

Growing up, Kohler was passionate about competitive swimming, thinking that was the sport she was going to go far in.

“The Olympics has been Kara’s dream since she was eight years old as a swimmer,” her mom, Caryl Kohler said at trials. At the time, her mom remembers her daughter always sporting an Olympic swim cap and wanting to follow in the footsteps of her idol, three-time U.S. Olympic swimmer and 12-time medalist Natalie Coughlin.

It wasn’t until her senior year of high school when a family friend encouraged her to look into rowing collegiately that she made the switch, walking on at the University of California, Berkeley as a recruit — the same college her swimming idol attended.  

“It’s definitely crossed my mind that it’s been 12 years since I got to go to the Olympics for the first time,” Kohler said. “I was a very fresh rower with very little experience and understanding of the sport.”

Now as “one of the older athletes,” she said she still feels the same excitement and jitters to race again at an Olympic Games.

If she could go back in time to offer words of advice to that college freshman just getting her start, she would tell her to “buckle up, trust yourself, and trust the process,” she said.

(center) Kara Kohler celebrates with family members after qualifying for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Rowing on Apr. 07, 2024 in Sarasota, Fla. (Photo by Row2k)

She would also remind herself to look to other people for inspiration. “There are a lot of incredibly strong women that I get to train with every day, so learn from them and boost each other up,” she added.  

One woman, in particular, she looks to for inspiration is U.S. teammate Meghan Musnicki, who recently made her fourth Olympic team at 41 years old after being chosen at selection camp in March.

“She’s a big inspiration,” Kohler remarked about her fellow rower who will be selected to race in Paris in either the four or the eight-boat.

Having competed in the quad for years, the California native said there are a lot of benefits to both boats.

The single, she said, “is simpler because you only have to deal with yourself, but I gather a lot of inspiration from teammates. And just because they’re not in the same boat doesn’t mean they’re not there with me.”

Her family is also a group she takes inspiration from, and she looks forward to having their support in Paris after not being able to have them there in Tokyo.

“The biggest difference this year is just hopefully having my family there and the spectatorship, which was so loudly lacking in Tokyo,” Kohler said. “I remember from London the deafening roar of the crowd in the second half of the race but you don’t get that in rowing ever. That was very special.”

This summer will mark her first time in Paris.

“I’ve seen a lot of rowing courses in my career and spent a fair bit of time in Europe, but never Paris,” she admitted.

So, how does she think she’ll fare on earning a second piece of hardware?

“I have a lot of experience, and I have some medals under my belt so I think just showing up to practice and visualizing each day — the process and where you want to go with it — I would say you have a good shot at doing well. If you don’t think that then why are you doing it if you don’t believe in yourself?” Kohler said.

And while she admits she thinks her chances in Paris are good, that doesn’t mean that feeling doesn’t come with nerves.

The last person to medal in the women’s single was Gevvie Stone in 2016 when she finished second. The U.S. has yet to win gold in the event.

“If I’m not feeling doubts or nerves then something is off,” she shared. “I believe in myself and know I can do it, but you have to get it right almost 2,000 meters. Just knowing that is where I think all the nerves come from.”