Olympic-caliber engineer

November 1, 2012
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Fall 2012

Olivier Siegelaar’s two passions—engineering and rowing—drew him to the Berkeley campus from the Netherlands four years ago. The mechanical engineering student and Cal crew team member competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where he represented his home country in the heavyweight men’s eight rowing event. A competitive rower since the age of 15, Siegelaar had this to say about his experiences as an Olympian and student-athlete:

Olivier SiegelaarOlivier Siegelaar (Photo by Noah Berger)On the Olympic final: “We ended up fifth in a race that has never been so close in an Olympic final. We missed out on a medal by 0.5 seconds in a six-minute race. The disappointment was absolutely there, looking at the hours, effort and pain we had put into this final competition. The good thing was that it was our best race so far, and that we left no stone unturned. Unfortunately, it was not enough, but this is part of the sport—and makes it as beautiful as it is.”

On Olympic highlights: “Everything. From the first until the last second of it. It was one amazing experience on an intensity you will only get at the Olympics. No event or anything I have done in my life could be compared with the thrill and extremely intense excitement I felt in those two weeks.”

On balancing school and sport: “It has everything to do with devotion and willpower. You just have to do it, period. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to leave for practice at 6, I would come back at 9 to have breakfast and get ready for my classes starting at 10. Then at 4, I would run out of class and jump into the van for the second practice. I would come home around 7 to get some dinner, and then around 9 would sit behind my desk to start learning my midterm or assignment for the next day. It all sounds worse than it was—because I also had time to meet up with friends—but when I had to work, I would work. Since two practices a day take a lot of energy, I certainly had my unintended (but rather nice) naps in some of my classes.”

On his enthusiasms: “The core things I love about rowing and engineering differ in a substantial way. In rowing, I love the competition, the suffering, the challenge, the pressure, the extreme team bond. The main thing for me in engineering is the complex puzzling and analytical thinking that is required to solve problems. The only one connection that really matters is that in both worlds I am surrounded by really gifted achievers.”