Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sailing with Olympians. . . and future Olympians, in Poland

One side effect of being in Poland is that I get to see things from a Polish point of view. This is true in both conversation and in the media. It’s great being outside of the normal American mainstream media with its one-sided perspectives. A realization that hit me the other day was that I am going to be watching the Olympics on television, but from the Polish perspective. It will be really interesting to see, and I’m sure I’ll see more sports besides swimming, gymnastics, and sprinting, such as are normally shown on American television. There might even be some windsurfing coverage, especially since the Polish team has an excellent chance of medaling. For the Games, I’ll be reporting from the Polish perspective, with an American twist. Keep tuned in for sailing updates!

For now, training continues for the Olympic team. After a 2-day break from the Puck training camp, the team is back in action. We’ve changed locations and are now sailing out of a brand-new training facility just outside of Gdansk. I’ve just departed the venue for a regatta in Sopot, but the time I was there I got a good idea of what they are up to. The coach has a few of the good men sailors on the 8.5 women’s sail in order to challenge the top girl, along with the rest of the women’s team. I was surprised at how fast the men were in light air, which just goes to show that good technique can indeed overcome being a heavier sailor. When you take a step back from this scenario, it makes one realize that the limits of this sport can be pushed all the time. How exciting! Anyway, it’s a very, very competitive fleet and they will be training in intensive sessions all week long.

I’m doing a regatta in Sopot with all the kids, who are really good in their own right. They aren’t as flawless as the Olympic team, but they are smart and fast and it is challenging to sail against them. In essence, I am getting the training I would have had if I had started racing as a teenager. I am definitely the oldest kid on the racecourse, but that’s where I fit in the best. The conditions have been challenging as is typical for Sopot, with offshore, very shifty wind. Yesterday we had rain squalls come through and wind anywhere from 5-25 knots. Try rigging for that! And today, the wind was really light, shifty, and offshore. Sometimes the shifts were as much as 45 degrees: very challenging! My first race I placed 4th…and my second race, toward the back third of the fleet. The girl who won the first race finished in the rear of the fleet in the second! Playing the shifts correctly is very important, and it’s difficult to know where to go all the time. It is real sailing, and not just planing, and it’s an important skill to develop.

Apart from my own sailing, it is really great to see how fast the kids are progressing too. Even though I’m getting better, so are they, and it is always challenging to sail with them. For a smaller country, Poland has some great athletes, and they are really celebrated here. Ability in sports isn’t taken for granted. I’m lucky to be involved at this level with their windsurfing team.

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