Tokyo Triumphs – An Olympic Games Outside All Expectations for USA RS:X Sailors

The Olympic flame has been extinguished for one of history’s most unprecedented Olympic Games, and as the Olympic Rings were raised on the Eiffel Tower, athletes are shifting focus to renew our efforts and spirits towards Paris 2024. Tokyo is an Olympics to mark in history books, as nations and competitors reorganized to our best abilities in accommodating an extraordinary and controversial pandemic. Although regulations were strict in Japan to prevent athletes from interacting with the public, and we had to go through daily covid tests and tracking health conditions, wearing masks and staying in our “bubble,” we still experienced a very warm welcome from volunteers and an effusion of enthusiasm and well wishes from the Japanese public. These Olympics were truly an expression of freedom: a joining of international athletes support of an event showcasing the power of teamwork, consciousness, and the spirit of sportsmanship overcoming marked individual selfishness exhibited by public reactions to the pandemic.

Tom Duggan, the PRO of the Olympic race committee, summed up the Tokyo Olympic spirit in a thoughtful statement about the teamwork exhibited by organizers and athletes.

For the USA RS:X sailors, Pedro Pascual and I, teamwork brought us together and helped contribute to our Olympic experience. During the spring of 2021 and for the 2020 qualifying events, Pedro and I formed a partnership sharing our coach, Jaime Andres, from Pedro’s base of El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain. In the months leading up to the Olympics, although we changed our coaching and training situation due to the location of differing boys and girls’ training camps and regattas, Pedro and I teamed up and shared extensively with our Cypriot training partners, including coaching, boats, and training in El Puerto (plus Denia, Spain, and Medemblik, Netherlands for the boys). Both of us did really amazing work, and we improved immensely in technique, strategy, and confidence.

The team, and the team behind the team (Photo: Jesus Renado/ Sailing Energy)

The least-considered and most ill-supported American Olympic sailing class, USA RS:X sailors have long been at the bottom of the pile when it comes to allocation of US Sailing Team resources and effort. However, our grit, willpower, and determination in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics helped we underdog RS:Xers post some of the best overall results of the US Sailing Team, and the best overall windsurfing results since the days of medalist Mike Gebhardt.

Photo: Jesus Renado/Sailing Energy

Against expectations, Pedro Pascual posted a 9th against a very competitive men’s fleet, and I a 15th against fully funded, experienced, and correctly developed competitors, of which at least six or seven could have potentially won an Olympic medal. All of this was accomplished by our willingness to fight, to work hard outside the bounds of reasonableness, form alliances with other teams, and to invent rapid solutions for lack of funds and training in the Covid era.

I am particularly happy with my Olympic regatta due to overcoming the financial stress, knocks to my confidence, and adaptations I’ve faced over the past five years. All these problems descended on my psyche after a particularly difficult first day of racing, and I was left upset on the coach boat facing a tough choice. With the help of my coach, I realized I could relax into the last RS:X regatta and simply sail to have fun, knowing that we had prepared the best we could over a few short months, and that we were fully supported at the Olympic Games. The difficulties of 16 years of campaigning weren’t hanging over my head, and I was well-prepared – very physically fit, technically strong, and I had selected the best equipment I could.

During this critical moment, I could feel myself expand to accept the Olympic pressure, the pressure I’ve always had to prove myself, and all the focused preparation I put in before the Games. I expanded to acknowledge my strong abilities as a windsurfer and racer, and the unlimited capacity of my willpower, to always give more without fear.

The next day held my favorite, and well-prepared-for conditions. 12-15 knots of breeze with big swell meant that I could get into the flow, surf down waves, and give all I had on tough downwind legs. I finished the day confident and happy, and it set the tone for race after race for the rest of the regatta. I surpassed my expectations for the event, sailed powerfully and fast, and finished in front of a group of competitors that normally give me a hard time! It was an incredible reward to finish the last RS:X event in a state of happiness and flow, and it’s an experience I will remember for all my life.

That means I was third around the windward mark (Photo: Jesus Renado/ Sailing Energy)

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition will see 350 athletes from 65 nations race across the ten Olympic disciplines. Enoshima Yacht Harbour, the host venue of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Sailing Competition, will once again welcome sailors from 25 July to 4 August 2021. 25 July, 2021 © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

I am extremely grateful for this experience and all my sponsors and supporters who helped get me to Tokyo.  STS International TAAROA Hydrofoil LoftSails Fitness Plus Brest Starboard Windsurfing Clearwater Community Sailing Center North Beach Windsurfing MB-Boards

Olympic Eve

After a year’s wait, the Tokyo Olympic Games are at last set to begin for sailing athletes. It’s been a waiting game for every available training and competition opportunity during the gap, and the unusual timing has affected each sailor differently in terms of opportunity.

Some sailors, with the help of their teams, have been able to train more or less in the same manner, with internally sourced training partners. Independent athletes such as myself, however, have had to organize differently. For me, it meant changing my entire program to windfoil for six months due to the almost complete death of the RS:X class after the World Championships in Sorrento, Australia. The break ended up benefiting my program and allowed me to create a fresh start in RS:X.

Team container in the Enoshima Yacht Harbor (Photo: Alison Chenard)

RS:X equipment selection has also been a waiting game as shipping delays plus Pryde’s halt of RS:X equipment manufacturing produced shortages of new material and parts. Luckily, I had a good stash of gear hoarded away, including a new board purchased with the help of friends on GoFundMe!

We spent several weeks in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, selecting the equipment I’ll use when racing starts, and getting in some group training. These 3.5 months of consistent training with partners flying in and out was refreshing to me. The stability benefited my program, as I didn’t have to chase every training opportunity and lose days to travel and tiredness.

Lastly, every single competitor has been affected by restrictions on traveling to Japan. Negative public sentiment towards the Olympics, pre-Olympic regatta cancellations, and strictly enforced timing on athlete arrival and training in Japan just before the Olympic regatta meant that nobody had the opportunity to prepare on-site both this year and last. I’ve competed in Enoshima twice, in 2017 and 2019, so I have a reasonable idea of what to expect. However, the year’s delay means all competitors are on a more equal playing field in terms of adapting to the venue – the heat, humidity, and the long spell of physical light wind conditions we’ve had (just like Maryland summers) plus an ice bath after training!

On-site, athletes are being kept on a closed circuit to prevent exposure to the Japanese public. Sailors are allowed to travel only from the sailing village (a seaside hotel) to the venue (Enoshima Yacht Harbor). Outside of training sessions, our days are filled following a strict routine. We get up, spit in a vial for a daily covid test, and fill out a health questionnaire in an application we had to download before arriving (we are also contact-traced using a second app). An activity plan (like a covid “bubble”) was also filled out before arrival, and since phones are always tracked, you’d better not step outside your planned bubble. After a physical training or warm up session in the gym and breakfast, we’re bussed to the venue, a process that takes about 45 minutes each way. The volunteers do a head count, seal the bus door with tape, and we’re deposited inside the venue after a security check. Inside the venue, sailors have limited training hours each day, ending at 5 pm. Coach boats as well as sailors are tracked and monitored live, and sailors and coaches are not allowed to leave the boundary of the racecourse area. The daily routine and restrictions are the most challenging aspect of navigating this particular Olympic Games, and the effort of this daily organization makes me appreciate all the work we did in Spain to prepare for this event.

I’m happy with my level of fitness and how I’m racing, and team event support is well-managed this time around. All I have left to do is sail hard tomorrow.

A huge thank you to all my sponsors and individuals who helped me achieve my Olympic dream: STS International TAAROA Hydrofoil LoftSails Fitness Plus Brest Starboard WindsurfingClearwater Community Sailing Center North Beach Windsurfing MB-Boards

The End of the Worlds

It’s been a long, slow good-bye to the RS:X class, dragged out over an extra year of Covid complications. After a corona-political cancellation in Hyères, the last RS:X World Championships was saved by the Federacion Andaluza de Vela in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz, Spain. At the tail end of the life cycle of this Olympic class, it’s bittersweet to witness the decline of the longest-lived Olympic class windsurfer.

Friendly competitive training before the Worlds (Photo: Patrik Pollak)

The RS:X fleet has been steadily diminshing in size, and most big teams have created local training opportunities for their Olympic athletes, either with selected, already-Olympic qualified international partners, or retaining some of their national team on RS:X, rather than moving them to the new iQFoil class. For sailors without a team structure, last year meant creating individual training opportunities on either RS:X or iQFoil and balancing those with more limited budgets and travel restrictions. Most remaining RS:X sailors have been training on both Olympic platforms and are foiling at a strong level. Coaches are actually training with each other and sharing information on windfoil equipment, and wingfoiling around the harbor after running an RS:X session! RS:X sailors and coaches are in excellent spirits and the atmosphere is close, familiar, friendly and appreciative. On the water, it’s super competitive as always!

Most sailors were happy to re-route to El Puerto de Santa Maria for the Worlds, as it’s a popular and easy-access European winter training venue, with one classic feature. In 2012, El Puerto de Santa Maria hosted one of the most infamous RS:X World Championships thanks to this classic condition. With four days of “Levante” wind gusting to 40 knots, the committee was compelled to run race after race in survival conditions. With an old-school slalom finish after our windward/leeward course, we were exploding, flying, and catapulting throughout most of the races. Peak Cadiz was attained when an RS:X speed competition was held in the channel just outside the harbor. Sailors were shoving six packs of 1,5 liter bottled water inside their wetsuits to try to hold down the equipment, nearly drowning themselves in the process. Equipment was somersaulting through the air on the water and on the ramp. I’ll always remember this regatta for my epic battle to qualify the US for a slot at the London Olympics. With a few good finishes simply due to survival of the fittest, I qualifed for the Gold fleet and nabbed a spot for the 2012 Games.

The windy Cadiz of 2012 legend. I might still have this board

2021 was off to a similar start with the opening day gusting to 45 knots. Although the women’s fleet made it out to the course, we were all flattened during the starting sequence by violent gusts and rising waves. It was impossible to race and after countless catapults and explosions (scroll down in this series of photos by Sailing Energy), we made it back to the harbor, half dragged by coach boats and half sailing 100 meters at a time. The commitee wasn’t brave enough to send the boys out – we girls had to serve as the wind dummies!

Windy Cadiz of the present: going out to the slaughter

The next day held less wind but extremely tricky conditions with huge swell against the wind, strong current, and gusty, instable wind. Excellent upwind surfing was to be had, but it was important to tack in the right place to cross the course, or you’d be stuck in a hole with your dagger down! The crest of each wave yielded a forceful punch of wind and a potential explosion on the downward side. The shifty, tricky, chilly, and wavy conditions remained with us for the rest of the regatta. Each day, some kind of survival strategy had to be put in place as the wind rose to 25 or 30 knots, whether during a race or getting back to the harbor. Coupled with the crazy sea state, the regatta was a combination of strategy, technique and survival – and execution under extreme conditions. To give us a break, the weather gods allowed us one classic sunny, thermal pumping race on the last day!

Catching a wave during a start

I was satisfied with my performance at this event, and although I was worried about picking up the RS:X too late before the Olympics to regain sailing fitness in this class, this fear was unfounded as I saw that I had actually made gains thanks to a good physical training program and time off for foiling. A few classic problems are coming back, but my technique is fast, automatic, and I’ve identified areas to clean up before the Games. I’ve proven that I can fight with top sailors, I’ve made myself as a sailor, and that is what is most important to me.

For those of us who have been sailing RS:X since its birth and even longer, it’s been a pleasure and a constant battle observing and participating in the growth and maturation of this Olympic class. Teams have become more and more professional, sailors have struggled to push their limits physically, mentally, and financially, and the level has risen ever higher and higher. Although it’s time to move on to a modern class, the Olympic-level friendships and shared experiences within the RS:X fleet will always remain.

A huge thank you to all my sponsors and individuals who helped me train this winter and participate in the 2021 RS:X World Championships and beyond: STS International TAAROA Hydrofoil LoftSails Fitness Plus Brest Starboard Windsurfing Clearwater Community Sailing Center North Beach Windsurfing MB-Boards

Gaining Momentum in USA Olympic Windsurfing

The first Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami supporting the iQFoil Class demonstrated that American windsurfers’ expectations for this class are holding up well.  Despite the usual Covid-19 complications, the iQFoil Class and US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program organized a great training camp and regatta.

Around 30 sailors participated in some form, and although most were Florida or Miami locals, we saw a few arrive safely from the west coast and even Hawaii.  The depth and success of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center youth sailing program was strongly in evidence, as these enthusiastic young sailors dominated the clinic.  The Biscayne Bay Yacht Club had a few high school-aged young men in attendance as well, and is showing promise in their beginner and intermediate kids’ group.  iQFoil sailors are obviously arriving from diverse backgrounds, and older, enthusiastic sailors showed up, as well as pro windsurfers / watersports competitors,  and youth originating from more traditional sailing classes.  The class is sure to attract many young people, and we will certainly see more and more kids arrive from youth sailing program backgrounds. 

Although the extremely light wind conditions were not the most ideal for the camp or regatta, with the help of iQFoil class manager and PWA pro sailor Gonzalo Costa Hoevel, all participants learned a ton both on and off the water. During both the training camp and regatta, we learned and raced mainly in slalom format as well as working on tuning the iQFoil gear.  For course racing sailors such as myself with limited experience in slalom, it was great to sort out procedure and analysis for this challenging discipline.  Slalom is highly precise and there is a lot to learn and practice! 

The iQFoil is definitely a technical class, but getting started is much easier physically and psychologically than RS:X.  Although intense in measurements, testing, and tuning, the technique and physical skill set needed in iQFoil is less broad than RS:X and large improvements can be made by sailors over a much shorter period of time.  This is not to say that iQFoil is an “easy” Olympic class:  speed, precision, and technique, difficult skills to develop, will be heavily favored in both class formats of slalom and course racing.  Although seemingly complicated in tuning, concepts such as rake angle, stabilizer shimming, footstrap and mast base position are not difficult to learn for people of all ages.  The one-design format with standardized rake (to be added in the near future) and  stabilizer (currently existing) shims limits overly-fine tweaking and lets sailors focus on speed, technique, and racing.

Gonzalo’s presence really saved the clinic and regatta from being a wash in the light wind conditions.  He freely shared his knowledge with participating windsurfers, US coaches, and the Miami race committee. We were on the water every opportunity we could muster, and it was an amazing learning experience for all.  Everyone was very determined to have a great event, and the group’s attitude and effort were impeccable.   We immensely appreciated Gonzalo’s skill and help in advancing our community’s level.

An awesome clinic still didn’t save us from RSX-style slalom…..

One thing is certain about iQFoil:  this class is already changing the image of Olympic windsurfing in the sailing world.  No longer “boring” enough to be an outsider, traditional yacht club programs are going to have to compete with a windsurfing class that is pure fun, and for young yacht club members, similar in pricing to Optis and other club boats.  In addition, community enthusiasts and professional windsurfers are taking up the class alongside Olympic-class racers, uniting many aspects of this sport. 

US Sailing and yacht club programs will have a challenge ahead in supporting the growth of this class with coaches and other infrastructure.  Luckily, the ODP program is supporting windfoil, and that’s a good start.  Can sailing in the US start shifting culture and recognize that it needs to support high-level windsurf and kite coaching, programs, and sailors?  At the “real” or middle-class sailing club level, it’s already been proven possible – can the more bourgeois clubs also expand their minds?

The greatest opportunity the USA iQFoil class has, at this very moment, is defining class culture and setting a new windsurfing standard in the United States.  At the moment, with the impeccable teamwork of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center among others leading the way, we are well en route to creating the welcoming, inclusive, and high level racing community that Americans desperately need to develop Olympic success.  Time and effort will show us how the bottom of the pyramid will grow to support a larger and higher level community. 

Our American training group moves onward to Clearwater, Florida, for the next ODP training camp and Olympic Classes regatta on the agenda!

A huge thank you to my sponsors who have made these events possible for me:  STS International, TAAROA Hydrofoil, Starboard Windsurfing, and LoftSails.  Thanks also to the Clearwater Community Sailing Center for the training and welcome!

Flatout Foil: Getting it Together plus Racing and Politics at the iQFoil International Games

It’s been a while since I’ve written and windfoil is definitely at fault. In the quest to stay on top of the knowledge wave, the past months have been filled with creating new programs, seeking out sponsors, and pushing myself hard to rapidly attend events and organize the equipment I need.

I’ve been fortunate over the past few months to partner with both an innovative hydrofoil company and a well-loved sailmaker. TAAROA Hydrofoil, based in Switzerland and France, is a technologically-oriented company with a reach that encompasses not only foiling surf sports like windfoil, kite, surf, wake, and SUP; but also an industrial engineering side. TAAROA has created the first artificial intelligence hydrofoil geared towards beginner foilers, the iUP. I’m also writing their English social media and blog posts, so if you’re dying to see more of my writing, head on over!

LoftSails is based in Tarifa, Spain, and is a popular, mainly European-market brand founded by the well-known American sail designer, Monty Spindler. With well-priced, thoughtfully designed and easy-to-use yet performance oriented sails, LoftSails is a racer’s favorite. Their Skyblade windfoil course racing line is a great choice for a fast, stable, and responsive sail. With an new and innovative design coming out in 2021, these speedy sails will certainly make an impact on the market. I’m hugely appreciative of their support in my windfoil course racing and coaching project.

Vanora Engadinwind by Dakine 2020, Silvaplana, Switzerland. Formula Foil World Championship. With a record field of participants, It is the most important and largest foil competition in 2020 with 200 participants from 33 nations. 20 August, 2020 © Sailing Energy / Engadinwind 2020

The competition craziness began in August at Lake Silvaplana, Switzerland, where I got Covid-tested and drove to the Formula Foil World Championships. After a crazy competition and TAAROA/Loft promotional organization, I drove back to France to do a long-distance race, the Extreme Cordouan in St-Georges-de-Didonne. Two weeks and more Covid testing later, I was on my way to Florida to pick up my iQFoil equipment, which had finally arrived in entirety in St Pete Beach. After two international flights and round-trip Maryland – Florida drive, I had done enough long-distance deal-making to get myself to the competition formerly known as the iQFoil World Championships, now re-named Covid style as the International Games.

For me, having sailed the iQ equipment just 4 times before arriving, and not having had much group training beforehand, understanding the event format and getting the equipment sorted was my priority. Luckily, many sailors were in my position as well, and we all got faster and faster during the event.

I had a lot of fun discussing technique and tuning with others, and by the end of the event I was fast upwind, although still figuring out technique on the reaches and downwind. The equipment turned out to be very easy to use, and even though I had struggled early-on with piecemeal gear in learning to jibe, I was ripping fairly decent jibes on the iQ gear after a day or two.

Big teams were in prominence at the iQFoil International Games, and the French, British, and Israeli teams dominated the podiums. PWA sailors were also high in the scoreboard. Well-organized teams and pros had received their equipment a bit in advance of some others, and those who had mastered the gear most were the fastest. Raw talent and natural ability, as well as good execution, also ruled the day. Fitness counts a bit less in this class, and there is a true “surf” or “windsurf” feel required to execute classic maneuvers and slalom racing. With a few days having five or six hours of water time, it was strange to feel energetic the next morning instead of completely destroyed like at an RSX regatta.

Not only was the racing exciting, so were, unfortunately, the politics. After a class executive committee was elected by NGB delegates, a submission to remove the IWA from the iQFoil class constitution was voted down. This led the losing group to flash-form a second constitution and executive committee within the space of 24 hours, and both constitutions were submitted to World Sailing to establish the class internationally.

For me, the sticking point of being a member of the IWA and using some of their secretarial services or not is not a major issue, but the subversion of a democratic process is. It’s too bad the class is monopolized by a group who has no problem with this, but for me it’s simply yet another reason to stay out of politics and be wary of the motives of big business. It’s a reminder to keep it local and demonstrate my best values where they will be appreciated, and continue to offer the best help that I can to develop American windfoil youth correctly, regardless of the trajectory of the iQ senior and youth classes.

My next challenges will be how best to manage two simulatenous trajectories: my career in the sport of windsurfing, and preparation for the Tokyo Olympic Games. With an all-new, monthlong semi-confinement in France, all events have been cancelled, and training will certainly be impacted. For now, the US is still open for business, but infection is certainly high. A few more Covid tests later, I’ll be back home soon for training.

A huge thank you to my sponsors for making these experiences possible and helping me stay in front of this new sport! STS International TAAROA Hydrofoil LoftSails Fitness Plus Brest

Expressing Olympic values through gardening

I admit that March and April’s period of quarantine in France was a welcome pause. Temporarily released from a bizarre life of constantly running and pushing the limits of time, money, and energy, I was privileged to rediscover a sense of community, calm, and sanity which I believe is missing from many of our lives, a feeling of well-being and being valued that I’ve often struggled to find during my adult life. Grounded, it was refreshing to speak with my neighbors every day, have more time to catch up with friends, and work on home projects as a team with my husband, instead of spending so much time apart. As I was lacking in clear athletic objectives, I turned some Olympic sized ambitions towards our garden.

Article about the garden and fund raiser in the local paper

The garden started out as a simple project for our time at home, but finished the quarantine as a place of gathering, friendship, and sharing for neighbors. My husband and I, faced with uncertainty regarding his employment and I with my campaign, decided to develop actual real-life skills and learn how to grow food. Our project started with simply wanting to plant a vegetable garden, and finished as a backyard, urban permaculture project, as we turned our ambition towards our home.

With a limited budget, we needed to create the garden as cheaply as possible. We used old pallets, wood left over from other projects, an existing cache of stones, and our shovels to create multi-levels of structure and a butte according to permaculture principles. My husband also built a small greenhouse with boards recovered from other projects and some Plexiglas. We spent quite a bit of time researching and learning how to build the garden, what plants to put in, and how to grow and keep the plants healthy.

I started all of our plants from seed, starting in the kitchen, in wooden trays my husband and I built, and using a mixture of compost and dirt that I filtered from the garden. The kitchen felt pretty tropical for six weeks, but we eventually moved the plants to the greenhouse as soon as it was mostly finished. One result of this, which real gardeners will laugh at, was that I ended up with 250 tiny tomato plants that I was too attached to, and just couldn’t bear to throw into the compost bin. So, the plants grew taller and taller, I separated and re-potted them two times, and they took up more and more space both indoor and out.

Tiny tomatoes…..
…become tall tomatoes eventually!

Over the course of two months, neighbors stopped by to watch and chat about how the garden was progressing. Oftentimes they would leave with our plants for their own garden, and we remarked on how pleasant it was to have grown plants that we could give to others. However, we still had over 200 plants left over.

In the spirit of community, we decided to hold a small fund raiser using the plants. We wanted to help local health care professionals, so we chose the local hospital’s (Centre Hospitalier Régional Universitaire Brest) medical research-oriented fund raising organization. Fonds Innoveo, the hospital’s medical research-oriented fund raising organization. Among their many projects is Covid-19 research involving the evaluation of serologic tests for Covid-19 antibodies among hospital staff and health care workers, to better provide them with protection.

We connected with local brewery Poèm to have a base for the fundraiser. We set up the remaining 240 tomato plants, about 30 cucumbers, squash, and numerous small flowers, outside the brewery. Customers arrived every afternoon and after putting some change in a box, walked away with not only their order of local beer brewed on-site, but their favorite plants for their home veggie garden. We hung around at the brewery to take care of the plants and explain the mission. After two weeks at Poèm, most of our plants had found new homes, and we raised almost 400 euro for Innoveo. With about 50 tall and green tomato plants still left, we re-started the fund raiser at Blé Noir, a crèperie located in the Brest botanical garden, Stangalard.

The first tomato finds a home

After so many personal fund raisers to benefit my Olympic campaign, it was a good feeling to raise funds to benefit others, especially a project that could link local businesses, community members, and the regional hospital, during a stressful and uncertain time. As an athlete, I and many others are used to priortizing ourselves over everyone else in order to have enough life balance to succeed in our sports, which can leave us feeling selfish at times. We are supported by our communities, and we have an obligation to give back when we can.

Happy fund raising ladies, nice looking guy…and a great view of the Rade de Brest from the hospital.

Now that we athletes are back to planning the last portion of our Olympic campaigns, it seems laughable that we are now doing so in these times, where community and solidarity count for so much more in the face of injustice. As Olympians we need to come together more than ever to express the universal Olympic values: good sportsmanship, equality and fairness, respect, brotherhood, participation and community, and the struggle to be the best person and athlete we can be each day of our lives. We cannot forget that we are all in this together.

Adapting to Quarantine

Last week, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organising Committee announced the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games.  The announcement wasn’t unexpected in the light of the global disruption caused by COVID-19, and after weeks of delay, athletes were relieved to finally learn that a decision had been made.  Although athletes have mixed feelings about the postponement, most agree that it was the fairest and safest option for all.  All athletes are facing a flood of unknowns and perhaps disappointments, and are generally taking the news one day at a time until they can restructure training programs and set new goals.

At home in France, we are under one of the stricter European lockdowns with the goal of containing the spread of the virus.  We’re not allowed to go out other than to buy groceries or for a short run within 1 km of the house, and we’re definitely not allowed to sail.  All outings must be accompanied by a document which is an attestation of honor that you’re not out being a tourist or otherwise doing dumb stuff.  It’s a classic bit of French ridiculousness that we need a document to go out, but it has had the effect of drastically reducing what are increasingly being dubbed “Covidiots” who are out wandering, visiting friends, or partying.  Regardless of these rather draconian measures, we are still better off than our friends in Spain, where you can’t go outside for recreation or even for a run alone.  In places like these, Olympic preparation has ground to a halt.

Most European athletes have reorganized to train inside at home, and here in a townhouse in the middle of the city of Brest, I’ve pushed all our furniture to the side to install a home trainer for my road bike and some equipment I’ve owned for a few years, like a Bosu ball, mat, Swiss ball, and a couple dumbbells.  My physical trainer has been busy writing body weight training sessions for all the windsurfers he is managing.   The only other training we’re allowed to do is to go running within a 1km radius.  Living on a huge cliff, there are plenty of hill and stair intervals to crank out – on a different street each one!  However, we are all missing the most critical on-the-water component of training, and don’t know when we can sail next.

IMG-0192

Testing some settings on the bike to prepare for intervals, you get the idea…

In the USA, plenty of athletes are in the same boat, so to speak.  US Sailing has cancelled all training camps through the beginning of April, and whether sailors can train alone on the water depends on the state policy and the weather too!  US Sailing Team members are all facing different challenges, whether it’s finishing our Olympic qualification, or puzzling out how to continue to put life on hold and press onward for another year – in all areas of finances, training, and competition.

In the sport of Olympic windsurfing, competitors are questioning what will happen regarding access to new Neil Pryde RS:X Olympic equipment.  With World Sailing’s recent change of the 2024 Olympic class to iQFoil, Starboard’s one design windfoil class, most sailors are making the switch to windfoil training and competition.  RS:X was unfortunately destined to slowly fade away after the 2020 Olympics, but now must endure another year.  An announcement has already been made that we are still to supply our own equipment for the Olympic Games, even though Neil Pryde has slowly been ceasing to produce RS:X equipment, resulting in supply shortages impacting all sailors last year.  Stock still exists although limited, and the RS:X class has been in contact with Neil Pryde and distributors to locate equipment and possibly facilitate orders for Olympic-qualified athletes.

These potential shortages plus the switch to foiling equipment means Olympic-qualified sailors will need to train on two platforms next year.  For sailors unsupported by their teams like me, this adds an additional element of financial and logistical complication.  I really look forward to starting training on windfoil, but I am concerned about the quality, participation and scheduling of RS:X events, as the majority of teams have already qualified a sailor for the Olympics, leaving most unselected sailors to begin windfoil.  The RS:X sailors who remain will most likely have to collaborate as an international team to support each other in having quality training on RS:X, as nations will surely change their focus towards foiling.

Personally, I have some planning to do to figure out how to finance another year of sailing, especially one involving two platforms of training (Foil and RS:X).  European iQFoil events have been scheduled for the fall, along with some American west coast Olympic Development Program foil clinics during the summer.  My coaching work with the American windsurfing community will most likely take me back to the USA for the summer, and back to Europe for the fall events, with a focus on foil for the rest of the year – if the virus lets us!

Again on a personal level, it’s refreshing watching health and family priorities sort themselves out under quarantine.  Sport has, in fact, an important role in daily city life.  Even in chilly, cloudy and windy springtime weather, the Brestois are playing outside with their kids, or running laps around the neighborhood.  With so much forced confinement, especially restricted to the city, exercise is critical to sustain the body, the mind, and the family.  We all have more time to think about and interact with each other without the distractions of random busyness, and I’ve been catching up with my family and old friends across the planet.  Most importantly, after long period of separation, it’s nice to feel like a team again with my husband as we knock out projects around the house.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can come back to the US this summer to start working and training with American sailors on windfoil!  We who don’t know what tomorrow holds for us can still keep our dreams close, and adapt to changing circumstances.

semis

Starting a variety of seedlings in the kitchen, in homemade trays, mixture of soil and compost from the garden with 1 cm of potting soil on top.

 

Olympic Qualifed! Sorrento 2020 Worlds complete, the last step to USA Olympic individual qualification

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Olympic qualification is finished!  After completing the 2020 Worlds in Sorrento, Australia, I’m thrilled to announce that I have been selected to once again represent the United States in the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Getting to an Olympics isn’t an individual effort.  We rely on a strong team to support years of training and competition, and all the small steps required to achieve excellence on the Olympic pathway.  An athlete’s team could include sponsors, coaches, health care professionals, family, friends, and the local community.   We all have a team surrounding us helping us on our journeys!

Of the team surrounding me, I’d first like to acknowledge STS International – you guys get the credit for funding and enabling me to compete in the US Olympic Trials! Your support was the break I needed to be able to train and prepare correctly, and attend these events with my team and coach.  Without your help, it would have been very difficult to compete in the Olympic qualification!  You have my deepest thanks and appreciation for deciding to join the Olympic family and helping me on my journey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To the American windsurfing community, you guys have been amazing and I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends.  You have done so much for me just by having my back, and for all the small donations and favors that have gotten me through complicated times.  Thank you to all the indivduals who have contributed on gofundme.com towards purchasing a new board, and local shop Ocean Air in Avon, NC for helping me out every time I come down.  Also a big thank you to my French supporters, local gym Fitness Plus, Pilates studio GymSem, and Aloha Attitude – you guys have helped me enormously with physical and on the water training here in Brest!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’d also like to extend a huge thank you to my Trials training team – coach Jaime Andres, my American teammate Pedro Pascual (who also just qualified for the Games) and my amazing international teammates and training partners from Greece (Gelly Skarlatou), Mexico (Demita Vega de Lille) and Japan (Fujiko Onishi).  It was a team effort from everyone, and although some of us have finished our campaigns, we’ll always be a team.

Credit for breaking new ground in fitness goes to my physical trainer,Jérémy Rivoal from Brest, who checks in every day to adapt my program and see how I’m doing.  It’s motivating to have someone enthusiastic and caring to guide my program.  Jérémy also trains the younger upcoming RS:X men at the national training center in Brest, a team that had great results at the Worlds.

Also, huge props to my family, who I’m sure never expected to have to deal with my bizarre lifestyle, random drop-ins to the homestead requiring airport pickups, and the pile of windsurfing gear in the basement.  You have been very patient!

Competing at the2020 Sorrento RS: X World Championships was a rewarding experience on a number of different levels.  Not only was the field of play really challenging and a learning experience, the spirit of the competition was inspiring.  With unstable wind and strong current making the physical chess match of racing even trickier, most sailors, including myself, learned more about racing that we ever thought we could.  During the timespan of one afternoon, the strong current could make every start and layline different.  It made the sensation under your feet different too – the action of the board in the water, and the feel of the water flowing around the daggerboard or fin were different each session.  To me, the different sensations created from the usual technique made the warm-up, speed testing with partners, and the process of committing the “feel” of the day to memory, even more important.  During racing, it was important to constantly keep looking around, because the unstable wind could change at any given moment.  Sometimes, two sailors only a few boatlengths apart could be in entirely different wind, causing vastly different outcomes in a leg of a race!

P1033108

Never stop fighting

Some of the best racing and fighting I’ve ever seen happened at this World Championships, and the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie was at its height.  Knowing that this was the last Worlds on RS:X as an Olympic class made competitors appreciate the event even more.  Especially appreciated by everyone was the enthusiasm and support of our host club, Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club.  Even though we’re a big, energetic, and messy crowd of racers, Sorrento managed to organize us onshore, give us great practice racing, and hold a well-run and professional Worlds.  Even better, somehow this wild bunch of RS:X sailors has given them the momentum to launch a new windsurfing program.  According to Ben Fels, sailing director at SSCBC, Sorrento has helped Australian Sailing (Australia’s governing body for the sport of sailing) develop a program called OutThere Sailing, which, with national funding from Australia’s Health Department, provides teenagers with an inexpensive, accessible-to-all opportunity to sail recreationally and develop friendships and a love for the sport.  Windsurfing would be a new component of the program.  Ben says that “The RS:X event at the club helped empower us to bring windsurfing into the mix, and we are really looking forward to it.”  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Holding it down in 30 knots

A full report on the conclusion of the event can be found on the RS:X Class website.

For me, the spring and summer will hold a few European training regattas, a visit home in May for US Sailing Team fund raising and giving a local clinic, and training and racing in Japan in June and July in preparation for the Olympic Games.  After a huge, exhausting effort in training, fund raising, and planning for the Olympic Trials events, the spring schedule has fallen by the wayside, so we are regrouping, budgeting, and planning as of now.  Pedro and I are looking forward to working our hardest this spring in preparation for the Olympic Games in Japan.

 

Sorrento 2020: The Last RS:X Worlds before the Last RS:X Olympic Games

The last individual qualifying event for USA windsurfers is the 2020 RS:X World Championships in Sorrento (Melbourne), Australia, which starts next Tuesday, February 23.  I’ve been here for three weeks already for training, and this venue is perhaps the most challenging I’ve ever sailed, which after 16 years on the circuit, definitely holds some weight.  With offshore wind, powerful current, and crazy gusts, every race is a learning experience.

The Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club has been enthusiastic and engaged with the competitors, which is a welcome departure from the usual way clubs grudgingly tolerate a boisterous mass of invading windsurfers.  The club has constructed racks for us, and is gladly sharing their lovely space.  In addition, they have been really engaged with learning the best way to run races for boards, and even held a training regatta for us last week with additional practice races yesterday and today.  Not only is this amazing training for how the regatta will actually feel for us sailors, the club is training their volunteers to efficiently manage a huge fleet of high-level racers in conditions extremely challenging for a race committee.  All the shifty wind and strong current means the race committee has to be ready to change or correct the position of marks and boats at a moment’s notice, and adapt and perform as a good team.  The great attitude of the club is rubbing off on sailors, and we’re all motivated to pull off a great sporting event in partnership with the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club. (For those of you wondering what on earth a Couta boat is, click here).

Pileup around the leeward mark due to strong current during the club practice regatta.  This is what our field of play looks like

For Team USA, I’m just about already qualified. However, my teammate, Pedro Pascual, still has a battle in front of him for the Olympic spot with Geronimo Nores, a young sailor from Miami who races well and is extremely fast in strong wind.  Pedro and I are sharing our coach, Jaime (from Cadiz, Spain), at this event, along with a Greek friend and training partner.  Our little international team has managed to get its priorities and equipment in order, has had some good training days, and we’re now resting up to be ready to race.  The hard work is done, and now it’s time to let our preparation take over for the event.

Other individual battles are shaping up.  Just a few of these include the outcome of the regatta for the French men’s team, 13 of whom are competing.  Any of the three top French men on the national team could win a Worlds, or an Olympic medal, and the outcome of their Olympic selection will come down to this event. On the excellent Israeli men’s team, top sailors face a similar situation, and on the Dutch team, it’s almost even more complicated.  The two top Dutch men couldn’t get any higher level – in 2019 they finished 1 and 2 at the World Championships, and they are also the best of training partners and teammates.  In the women’s fleet, the Italian team is in the same situation, with strong front-running sailors.  The Japanese women are finishing their individual qualification as well.  On the North American side, the young Canadian woman I’ve been coaching on and off, Olivia Mew, is facing veteran Olympian Nikola Girke, recently returned from retirement and aiming for another Olympic Games.

The RS:X women, of course, are sailing at an extremely high level, and teams have sent only their best athletes to this far-away and expensive corner of the world.  Many countries are using this event as their final individual Olympic qualifier, and sailors are gearing up for a major battle.  Even during the training races, the attitude is aggressive and precise.

PHOTO-2020-02-19-16-18-49

Boards at rest – Nice space thanks to great organizers

One team is notably absent:  the Chinese.  Already removed from the entry list, seven women and nearly the same number of men are affected by a travel ban to Australia due to the infamous coronavirus.  It’s a disappointing outcome for the Chinese team, who had high chances to medal at this event. Quarantines and travel restrictions are beginning to affect many high level sporting events related to the Olympics and otherwise – Olympic qualifiers, Asian championships, the PGA tour, Formula 1 events, and even the PWA April windsurfing event in Japan has been cancelled.  On top of this disruption of sports competitions, the Tokyo Olympics are suffering from rumors of cancellation, despite numerous assurances from event organizers and politicians that in fact, the Olympics are in no danger.  London, the 2012 Olympic venue, has stepped up to offer an alternate in case of the worst happening.  For now, teams are just waiting to hear more news.  High political investment and corporate interests at stake make an Olympic Games very hard to cancel.  Hopefully, if it comes down to the worst case scenario, athlete health and security won’t take a back seat to money. We’ll also have more data available on the effects of coronavirus in a few months.  It remains to be seen if the virus will do further damage internationally – it is certainly not easy to control the propagation of both infectious diseases and misinformation in today’s hyperconnected world.

Although it would make me happy to compete once again at Weymouth, the sailing venue for the 2012 Games in London, I’m hoping for the best outcome for the Tokyo Olympic Games and the investment by so many countries in that beautiful place.  For now, we’ll stay focused on the local level here in Sorrento, and perform our best at this amazing venue.  This World Championships is meaningful on many levels for sailors, not only as an Olympic qualifier, but because the Olympic windsurfing class has newly changed equipment to the Starboard iQFoil windfoil equipment, it will be the last Worlds for the RS:X Olympic class.  The equipment change, plus the warm welcome of the Sorrento Sailing Club, makes the event a special one to look forward to – it could be the last with this great group of sailors.

Click here for the Sorrento “Boatcam!”

Miami World Cup: Second step towards Olympic qualification

At last, long months of winter preparation came to fruition at the first event of 2020, the Miami World Cup, held the 20-25 January.

With new vigor added my program thanks to sponsor STS International, I was able to correctly prepare for this event, which is the second step on the way to the individual qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Correct preparation for a peak event means that physical training, on-the-water training, funding, and equipment selection need to come together at the right moment, and with added support from STS and my new training team, I was able to make it happen.

200121_PM_MIAMI_20566_0357

Although I couldn’t get to Miami as early as I wanted due to the cost of plane tickets, I was still able to have a great training camp with a few good partners.  The best thing about American regattas is the great attitude, and it was fun doing practice races with all the North American girls.  We all tend to appreciate the spirit of sportsmanship and fair racing, and we all have known a certain level of difficulty in our campaigns that makes us respect and appreciate each other more and be more relaxed when training and racing.

Equally as good was our team’s attitude.  Every coach boat has a different vibe, and ours was funny and relaxed – the jokes were nonstop.  Better yet, one teammate from the Dominican Republic had the tendency to break out in song while waiting for wind, so we all had the opportunity to join in.

200121_PM_MIAMI_21459_2610

Training partner Demita and coach Jaime

The regatta opened with a day of light, shifty northwesterly wind, making for some tricky and physical racing.  Just to change things up a bit, the second and third day a massive cold front blasted through, and we had wind from 15-20 knots on the second day, to 25 + the third.  The temperature plummeted as well, and we shivered for four and a half hours on the water trying to get three races in.  Upon coming in, I huddled under an aluminum space blanket with an electric heater on full blast while lying on the physical therapist’s table waiting to get treated.  The heat dome worked and circulation gradually returned to my numb hands and feet.  The attention-grabbing Miami Herald headline of the day was “Frozen Iguanas Fall from Trees in South Florida.”

200122_PM_MIAMI_28874_8524(1)

Hook in, hold on

The event concluded with a day of sailing in the “washing machine” of passing thunderstorms, and one day of no racing due to light wind, despite hours of waiting on the water.

200123_PM_MIAMI_32089_9901(1)

Overall I was really happy with my level of fitness and how I raced.  Going into the medal race on the last day of the regatta, I was solidly in third place with a chance of moving up into second.  My plan was to sail an aggressive race and move up a place.  However, I blew my chances for a medal by being over the starting line early.  The medal race is a winner-take-all final round with double points, and this small mistake meant I was disqualified from the race, dropping me back two places.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement – it was a horrible shock for me to lose the opportunity for a medal at the last ever Miami World Cup, especially one where I was sailing so well overall.  I’ve competed in 16 Miami regattas, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to this venue, where I’ve made so many memories both bright and painful.  For the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, US Sailing is moving Olympic sailing events to the west coast of the USA, and this historic east coast venue will no longer hold major Olympic class regattas.

Experiencing the last Miami World Cup, a tiny slice of sailing history, was an impactful event for my teammates as well.  My training partner for the event, Demita Vega de Lille from Mexico, is a good friend and contemporary.  We started sailing together in 2005 and have lived some history made in Olympic windsurfing.  Here, we both knew we were about to be participants in another story, because this Miami World Cup, an event we’re so familiar with, would be the last.  Demita also faced a significant battle to win her Olympic selection with an up-and-coming young Mexican woman who has made major progress in the last few years. Mariana Aguilar won against Demita at the 2019 Worlds in Lake Garda, to be the sole Mexican sailor to qualify Mexico for the Olympic Games. For Demita, not knowing the outcome of the qualification and her career, the event held a mysterious and focused quality.  When a major part of your life is balanced on the outcome of one event, and your future steps are enigmatic and shrouded, time slows down and takes on a zen quality. The only actions you can take are to appreciate every moment, give your best to every second of the day, perform your best on the racecourse, and live your best values.  We experienced this magic on our team, and it helped Demita sail an amazing event, win the gold medal, and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

200125_PM_MIAMI_38912_0440

Women’s podium, a close regatta between Mexican windsurfers Demita and Mariana

Demita’s performance wasn’t the only standout.  My teammate Pedro Pascual won the men’s event, putting him in the spotlight with US Sailing.  Pedro was recognized by the Golden Torch Award, given to the top American sailor at the event, and the first time ever given to an American windsurfer.  In addition, our newbie racer on the team, Sammy Perez Hults from the Dominican Republic, finished one race in second, the best regatta performance of his career. There was a loud cheer from our boat when he crossed the line!

200125_PM_MIAMI_39121_0649

Pedro’s awards

Despite my failure to medal, the good news is that I put more places between me and the next American competitor, and have fully clinched the Olympic individual qualification.  This realization hasn’t quite hit home for me yet, because I’m focused on completing our final qualifying event next week.  When do I get the chance to think, I’m absolutely thrilled to again represent the United States at an Olympic Games.

The last individual qualifying event for the USA is the 2020 RS:X World Championships in Sorrento (Melbourne), Australia, and begins next Tuesday.  I’m looking forward to this tough event and have been in Australia for three weeks already training hard.