An Aussie rower's shot at Olympic closure

Tim Masters has had unfinished business ever since the agonising May day in 2016 he sat dejected in his boat in the wake of the 'Regatta of Death'.

The event gets its cheerful nickname due to the stakes at hand - it's the final chance that national rowing crews have to qualify for the Olympics.

Minutes earlier as the then 24-year-old waited for the starter's gun on Rotsee Lake in Lucerne, Switzerland, he'd focused solely on getting his first stroke in the water right.

The equation was simple.

Finish top two and grab a ticket to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Anything less and you had to wait another four years.

Masters remembers the "weird" atmosphere - most people's dreams are crushed while a handful taste euphoria.

Australia started well, leaping out to second place. But they were overpowered by other crews, eventually finishing a distant fourth behind the USA, Poland and Italy.

It marked the first time Australia failed to qualify a men's eight crew for the Olympics since London 1948.

"It was brutal," Masters told AAP.

"The fact I didn't go to Rio pissed me off, so I was determined to make it to Tokyo.

"I felt like I still had things to prove and I needed closure."

After growing up in Melbourne, Masters attended Princeton University in New Jersey. It's home to Lake Carnegie where the US men's Olympic team trains, and to one of the world's most prestigious rowing academies.

After graduating, he won multiple world championships medals at under 23 level before helping the Australian men's eight qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, in September 2019.

But the journey to Japan didn't end there. He then had to win selection in the final eight as bushfires engulfed his Canberra base in smoke the following summer.

Barely able to breath out on the water, he and the other Olympic hopefuls were forced to revert to gruelling 45-kilometre training sessions on rowing machines at the Australian Institute of Sport's indoor gym in Belconnen.

And then COVID hit. With a level of doubt over the safety and feasibility of the Games unparalleled since the Second World War, organisers pushed them back a year.

"There was a pretty high level of burnout - the delay weighed quite heavily on people's minds," Masters said.

"If the day came when they told us the Olympics were cancelled ... I'd deal with it then. But I wasn't going to quit at the 11th-hour."

Masters feels comfortable flying to Tokyo, which is on the brink of its fifth wave of coronavirus, as he's had two Pfizer vaccination shots.

But he knows the Olympic village will be nothing like usual, with the Australian crew set to return home within 48 hours of their final race.

All the while, his old rowing coach will be watching on.

"I am thrilled to see him earn an opportunity to race in Tokyo," Princeton head coach Greg Hughes told the university's website this year.

"He's worked hard, stayed tough and focused through COVID-19 and his attitude through it all has been an inspiration."