Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Puck, Poland: Where it all begins again

For the past 10 days the team and I have been training in Puck, Poland. Puck is my favorite venue in Poland because it is small, scenic, relaxing, and a great launch. It was the first place I ever trained with the team, so every time I go back, I can see how my sailing is progressing. I always expect great things from myself in this place, and this camp was no exception.

This camp is one of the last for the season, and you could really sense that the kids knew that. With the start of the school season upon them, they were on their most mischievous and enthusiastic behavior. However, that didn’t stop them from working their hardest. It is really refreshing to see the way they are focused on bettering their own sailing while having fun at the same time, whether they are aged 15 or 22. They have all improved a lot over this season and it is great to see that I have improved along with them.

I can honestly say that I did some of my best sailing during this training camp. We had all kinds of conditions, from no wind to 30 knots. We had two sessions a day with a tactical lecture every morning (in Polish of course). We did races in which everyone was floating and pumping in glassy conditions, to races where puffs were flattening the entire fleet. With some running thrown in every day, it was enough to be really exhausting! I actually was really sick the last two days from exhaustion, although I didn’t back down because we had a regatta series every day, and I wanted to see how well I could place. I ended up 5th out of 15 kids in the 8.5 fleet, with only the two top girls there placing better than I. It was good for my confidence to see how well I was sailing, even though conditions on and off the water were really tough.

Last season it was a little challenging mentally for me to sail with the Polish kids. The Polish youth development program is so advanced that all the kids are fantastic sailors and very competitive on a world level. It was a little tough to initially get beaten by 16 year olds, but at the same time those 16 year olds had at least 5 more years racing experience than I did, and at a very high level. The kids start when they are 8-12 years old, and anyone older than 15 is actually considered "too old" to start in their youth program. They start on the Bic Techno, or previously, the Alpha sailboard class, and those regattas are extremely competitive, similar to a big Optimist regatta in the United States. I ended up thinking of myself as a Polish kid, and worked on up from there. This season, it’s paid off. Not only am I keeping up with them, I’ve developed a good working relationship with their team and can see how they develop their young sailors through a focus on hard training balanced with normal academic life.

This camp was a very important one for everyone as the Polish Championships are coming up in a week. All the Polish teams attended, with the exception of a few members of the Olympic team, and the Warsaw team, who had a top-secret training camp in an undisclosed location. Warsaw and Sopot are the two most competitive clubs in Poland, and they are always trying to win against each other in every local event. The Warsaw sailors are really tough. They come from the biggest Polish city and they work hard under a very tough and no-nonsense coach. He is really old-school Polish, doesn’t speak much English, and makes sure his team is disciplined. (He’s even gone so far as to discipline me (!) which actually made me feel more like one of them.) As a result his sailors have an intense focus and confidence. Zofia Klepacka, the 2008 Olympic representative, comes from this team. As a a sailor with the Sopot team I feel pretty competitive with the Warsaw team and always like to see how I measure up with their girl sailors. We’re all looking forward to the Polish Championships.

This will be my second Polish Championships, my first being in 2006. I had to miss last year’s regatta for the Olympic Trials. The regatta is almost comparable to a Grade 1 ISAF event with the level of the sailing and the numbers of sailors in attendance. I’m excited to see how I’ll stack up against the Polish sailors this year!