Tokyo – The African bush wooshes past as the blades catch the water with each meticulous stroke, propelling Diekmann forward in her single sculls boat.
The 26-year-old single sculler has come a long way since she awkwardly climbed into a rowboat for the first time in 2015, etching her name into the history books as the first rower from Namibia to compete at the Olympic Games.
What started as a passion project at university has bloomed into a full-on Olympic pursuit which has swept many along for the ride. Diekmann’s journey has taken her from a farm in the semi-arid Namibia in sub-Saharan Africa to the waters of neighbouring South Africa and the top rowing courses in the world.
Growing up near Otjiwarongo, Diekmann was never exposed to rowing or any other water sports, for that matter. Her curiosity finally got the best of her in her third year of studies at South Africa’s Rhodes University in Makhanda, and she decided to give the sport a go.
“They put me in the smallest boat, the single sculls, straight away, which I think, when looking back, was the best thing,” Diekmann recalled.
“I had to learn in what is considered the most difficult boat. It is unstable, it is just you and no one else helping you balancing the boat. So I learned quickly about the basic things in the stroke, even though it was such a new sport and I’ve never been exposed to something like this.”
Mere months after her first strokes, Diekmann represented Namibia for the first time at the 2015 African Olympic qualification regatta in Tunisia for Rio 2016. She missed out on qualification, but the experience alone served as validation of her newfound dream.
“I remember that clearly because that was after nine months of rowing, and there I was racing for Namibia,” said Diekmann.
“That was exciting, and it was a big step in my career where I realised this was something I wanted to take further and get better for Namibia and see if I can qualify for the Olympics one day.
“From there, that is where the dream of Tokyo and the next Olympic cycle was born.”