Tokyo Calympian: Rosemary Popa, Rowing, Australia
Both of Popa's parents are Olympic rowing medalists
One of the things that Cal Rowing (both men and women) have really improved upon in the last few years was to include the names of the rowers of their various boats, both in social media posts and in their press releases. For whatever reason, this was not standard practice in the 2010s when Rosemary Popa was a rower at Cal. Nonetheless, if Popa was underappreciated for her time at Cal, we will make up for that by celebrating this 1st-time “Calympian”.
Event: Women’s Four
Hometown: Melbourn, Victoria, Australia
Olympic Appearance: 1st
Age: 29 (December 30, 1991)
Cal connection: Alumna (‘14, Sociology)
Cal accomplishments: Rosemary (Rosie) Popa rowed on Cal’s Varsity 8 boat for all four years (2011-14). While Cal did not win any NCAA national titles during that stretch, Popa’s boat has won both the Pac-10 and then Pac-12 titles. Her old Cal profile listed the 2011 Pac-10 grand final win as her greatest achievement then.
Popa will be racing in the Women’s Four, the same event where Calympian Kendall Chase will represent the United States. The rest of her boat are Lucy Stephan, Sarah Hawe, and Molly Goodman.
A US-Australia dual citizen, Rosemary Popa had represented both countries internationally. Popa represented the United States at the U23 World Championships in the quad sculls back in 2011. She switched to racing for Australia and narrowly missed out on becoming a Rio 2016 Olympian.
You can say that Olympic rowing is in her blood as both of her parents were Australian Olympic Rowing medalists. Her father Ion Popa had rowed for Romania before defecting to Australia in 1978. Ion made two Olympic Games and won a bronze in the Australian men's eight at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. At that same Olympics, Rosemary's mother Susan Chapman won Australia's first Olympic medal in women's rowing, a bronze in the coxed four.
In her interview with The Roar Sports, Popa talked about her parents.
Given her parents’ success in the sport, you could be forgiven for thinking that Popa had no choice but to take up rowing. But that wasn’t the case.
“I remember my dad sitting me down when I was younger, asking me whether I wanted to row because it was a really hard sport,” says Popa.
Popa did other sports when she was younger, including playing basketball at an elite level. But after she stopped growing, she turned to rowing. She always had the support of her parents, without feeling any pressure from them.
“Through my high school years, I never felt like I was the daughter of two Olympic rowers and I never felt any pressure to row,” says Popa.
“Instead, my parents just guided me when I needed them, whether that was finding the right club or coach.
“Mum and dad were always there when I wanted or needed advice. I feel like it’s a really healthy relationship.”
In fact, Popa credits her parents for helping her find her way back to the sport after a difficult period in 2016 where she was pushing for Olympic selection but missed out.
“I had been injured in the lead up to selection and after missing out, I thought I was done,” says Popa.
“It was a tough period, but my parents respected me during that time and slowly let me heal.
“With them gently supporting me, I realised that rowing was still something that I wanted to do.”
Was there a practice, race or other event when you fell in love with the sport, or when you knew you might not be too bad at rowing? When you thought you could make the national team?
I missed out on selection for the quad in 2012 at the the USA U23 selection camp. Myself and another athlete Anna Kaminski, who was also cut for the sculling team, decided to jump in a pair and race at the non-camp crew selection regatta. We only had a few sessions together and were the underdogs leading into the race. With 250/300 meters to go we were in second place by open water. We put together an awesome sprint and won the race by a bow ball, selecting us for the U23 World Championships in Lithuania.
The reason why I loved that race so much was because we didn’t overthink jumping in the pair and just worked with an opportunity that was presented to us.
It was also a good lesson about doing the hard work early; making sure to put yourself in a strong position through consistent training in the pre season, and perform during trials so you are such an asset to the team there is no way you cannot be selected.
Best race/practice, worst race/practice?
Worst race, but a character building one would be my first race in the 1x in 2007 at the Australian National Championships. I was so far behind that with 750m to go the safety launch that was following the race told me over the megaphone that I could stop and take the boat in. I didn’t, but it was a long 12-15 minutes.
Popa racing for Cal in 2012
Best practice/racing is the AUS 4- that I am selected in for the Olympic Games this year. Along with the whole Australian squad we have all bound together during this pandemic, and are making the most of each session. The boat feels great and we all work really well as a unit - so hopefully our best race will be in July of 2021!
Outside the water, Rosemary Popa has recently started an Arts and Crafts company to help other Athletes: Rosemary Local. In an interview about this venture, she talked about this business.
Although not all the creatives on Rosemary Local are athletes, the vast majority of them have either rowed or are currently rowing. Athletes who have a creative flair contact me directly and from there we talk about a product they would like to sell on Rosemary Local. I ask them to fill out a form with product details, and provide a bio about themselves to give the readers some information about the artist. This includes their sport, if they study and/or work, and their inspiration for creating the product(s). Once that’s sorted, I take care of the promotion, sale and delivery.
With three Cal Bears alumni in the Women’s Four on three different teams (Rowan McKellers is on Team Great Britain, in addition to Chase and Popa), it is perhaps good that three medals do get awarded at the Olympics.
Best of luck to Rosemary Popa and her Team Australia crew in Tokyo!
Women’s Four Rowing Schedule
The women's rowing events at the Tokyo Games are scheduled for July 23-30 on the Sea Forest Waterway.
Date and Time: Sat 24 July 2021, 8:30 - 12:30
Women's Four Heats
Date and Time: Mon 26 July 2021, 9:00 - 11:20
Women's Four Repechage
Date and Time: Wed 28 July 2021, 8:30 - 11:40
Women's Four Final B
Women's Four Final A
Women's Four Victory Ceremony
In case you are really new to rowing, the standard distance of a race is 2000 meters…thus the row2k website name.