At the age of 23, Franck N’Dri became Ivory Coast’s first Olympic rower when he competed at the Tokyo 2020 Games. With the guidance of his coach, former Canadian Olympic rower Timothy Turner, N’Dri was able to honor the ambitions of his late father, a national kayaking champion. His father introduced N’Dri to water sports and encouraged him to become a better rower.
“When I line up, I have my dad’s face in my head,” says N’Dri. “He always told me that as long as you’re in line, as long as you’re breathing, don’t give up — keep going until the end.”
Now, N’Dri wants other Ivorian rowers to be able to emulate his Olympic success. He says one barrier to increasing participation in Ivory Coast is the perception that water sports are unsafe.
“Parents are very afraid of water and [for] Their children reach for it,” says N’Dri.
To combat this, N’Dri is planning a youth meeting day to talk about rowing and dispel any fears surrounding it. Through community engagement programs, N’Dri hopes to help nurture the next generation of rowing professionals in the country.
Another challenge is lack of funding for equipment and training. N’Dri believes the sport needs more support from the country’s sports ministry and the World Rowing Federation.
‘If I stop working, I’ll stop running’
Despite representing his country at the Olympics, N’Dri has not been able to line up full-time. From 8 am to 4 pm on weekdays, he earns money as a toll booth collector in Abidjan city. “I have to work to feed myself but also to support my family,” says N’Dri. “If I stop working, I have to stop rowing.”
Still, a busy schedule doesn’t stop N’Dri from training every day. Waking up to a 4:30 alarm, he fits in training sessions to improve his endurance, physical strength and technique. N’Dri believes this level of discipline is necessary to compete internationally. However, getting funding from governing authorities for good training is “a battle that will be long, very long,” he says.
Now based in Canada, N’Dri’s coach recognizes the struggle Rover faces balancing training with his day job. “She has to … dedicate herself to her goal of going to the Olympics,” Turner says. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.”
The game is constantly evolving in the continent. According to the World Rowing Organization, in 1992, rowers from only two African countries — South Africa and Zimbabwe — qualified for the Olympic Games. At the Tokyo 2020 Games, rowers from 13 African countries qualified, including Benin, Morocco and Namibia.
Faced with increased competition, N’Dri continues to train hard every day. “In rowing, everything is important,” he says. “Every detail counts. You shouldn’t leave anything out, you shouldn’t leave anything to chance.”