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Lisa Darmanin: Sailing into the 2021 Olympics


UNSW graduate and Ben Lexcen Scholar Lisa Darmanin (BCom Liberal Studies) is competing at this year’s Olympics as a member of the Australian sailing team. We chatted to her about staying competition-ready during a global pandemic, where she finds inspiration, and why she thinks the Olympics will bring hope to the world.

With several family members involved in sailing, the sport is in Lisa Darmanin’s blood. When she took up sailing at the age of nine, it was the beginning of a love affair that would take her all the way to the pinnacle of elite performance.

“I love the speed of the boats that I sail, I love working hard towards a goal and then racing against the best in the world and see all that hard work pay off. And, usually, I love that I get to travel the world and sail and race in amazing locations.”

Future-proofing an athletic career

Life as a professional athlete is high pressure – not only because of the demands of elite competition, but also because successful careers can be cut short overnight by injury, illness, or even global pandemics. A backup plan is a vital part of a sustainable career in elite sport.

“It’s really important to me to have a dual career so I knew that whatever happened, I always had my university degree,” says Lisa.

Attracted to UNSW’s credentials in business – and its inviting atmosphere for elite athletes – Lisa graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies) in 2013.

“[If I weren’t a professional athlete] I think I’d be in marketing or PR. I’d like to get into broadcasting and sharing athlete stories … there are so many good stories to tell!”

Lisa Darmanin Silver medal

Sailing in a COVID-19 world

Lisa describes sailing as a response sport; one that requires competitors to respond quickly to other competitors and the environment around them. Her ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances has also served her well amidst a global pandemic and international travel restrictions.

“We used to spend over six months each year racing and training overseas. It’s been a big shift to not have all this tough international training. It has also been a bit of a blessing … it’s given us time to get on top of injuries and really have some solid strength and fitness blocks,” says Lisa.

“We’ve had to get inventive with the way we train since we don’t have the tough international competitors pushing us.

“Australian Sailing put together a fast-track program for youth sailors. We set up a handicap system where the youth sailors go to a shorter mark around the racetrack. This means we’re sailing more distance and have to push harder to catch up. This helped simulate race situations rather than just sailing around by ourselves.”

Why this year’s Olympics are more important than ever

After the upheaval and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa hopes the Tokyo Olympics will be a bright spot for viewers around the world.

“I think the Olympics will bring new hope to the world. It will finally give us something to talk about other than the pandemic. We can celebrate human greatness, bask in unity and remember there are still a lot of things to celebrate.”

“I honestly cannot wait to compete. I love racing and that’s why I do this. It’s going to be epic.”

In good news for Australian viewers, Japan’s time zone will make it easier to watch many events live.

“Channel 7 will be broadcasting across their channels and app. We love receiving messages if you’re watching,” says Lisa.

Lisa’s goals, and her desire to make a mark in the world, extend far beyond Tokyo.

“My goal is to be the best in the world. I have a strong work ethic and believe I can achieve great things. I also want to use my position to make positive change for women equality in sailing and protecting the environment that is my office.”


Lisa Darmanin and Jason W Rio