Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Rundown

Competing at the 2012 Olympic Games, for me, was an enlightening experience. Like most of us, I always appreciated the Olympics for their significance on a world level - bringing nations together to compete fairly, equally, and peacefully regardless of political conflict.  It is an honor to compete for the United States and represent the ideals of the Olympic Games, and I now understand the meaning of the dedicated years of my life I spent achieving this goal.  As an athlete, I've also begun to comprehend the level of experience and focus needed to really succeed in this event. 

Photo: Daniel Forster

In the rather complicated sport of windsurfing, putting together all the elements of a winning Olympic regatta takes years to learn.  As the sport evolves, athletes need to put together tactics, fitness, technique, funding, coaching, and a support network in order to be successful.  Although I put together a really good program this past year, it's just the baseline for a truly excellent one.  Today, I had the chance to identify many core areas that can be greatly improved, and to reflect on the aspects that did work for me.

I went into the Olympic regatta feeling I had a strong plan to succeed.  Because I have had so much training time at the Weymouth sailing venue, I am really comfortable with sailing here in all conditions.  I am also familiar with living here and the community, the weather, and locating all the resources I need to keep everyday logistics operating smoothly.  Psychologically, I came in feeling relaxed, focused, and confident in my plan for controlling distractions, competition focus, and pre and post-race routines.  As one of the less experienced competitors in the Olympic fleet, I had no outsized expectations for medaling, but rather to compete how I normally would at any other event, and remember and utilize all the aspects of training I completed this past year.  My first Olympic regatta seemed like almost any other event, except for the added logistical burden of security and living in close quarters with all the other athletes and coaches. 

In many ways, my plan worked very well.  Psychologically, I stayed focused and although I had a few discouraging races, I was able to push through them and re-focus for the next one.  I was also able to recognize the aspects of the race that were going well, and stay really positive throughout the entire event.  I felt comfortable in all the conditions we saw during the regatta, and put together good tactical plans before every race.  My fitness was very good as well (I actually was measured as one of the fittest girls in the fleet last March during a study conducted at the RS:X Worlds).   However, a few small factors disturbed my regatta a bit, and I was quite surprised by the amount of influence they had.

On the first and second day of the event, I had a few mediocre starts that set me back in the fleet upon the finish.  I had trouble recovering mentally from these; although I didn't feel bad, get angry, and was able to refocus after the mistakes, they made me sail more conservatively and focus on defense instead of aggressiveness.  What I needed was a plan to regain "attack mode" - this was something I hadn't considered in my psychological plan.  Another distraction was that although the regatta felt like a normal event, everyone was watching me!  I had to stay off Facebook and away from blogs in order to stay relaxed.  This was something I planned for, but it did add an element of pressure and next time, I'll know to expect it.

Another factor that influenced my regatta, that I had also planned for, was that I didn't have my usual coach, Max, on the course with me.  For the regatta, both Bob Willis (the USA men's windsurfer) and I shared his coach Peter; this was a result of a refusal of our team management to credential a windsurfing coach.  Although Bob's coach, Peter, is very good, he has his own way of doing things and his advice the first few days of racing threw me off a bit because I wasn't focused on what Max and I had worked on, and the formula that works for me.  Although Peter and I worked together during a few events and training, Max was around during this time and it was a bit different not having Max at all. In retrospect, I would have needed different preparation before working with Peter. 

This Olympics for me was all about gaining experience and insight into the small things that give me gains in competition.  It helped me to realize in what ways my preparation on and off the water needs to be tweaked to improve for the next Olympics.  I'm looking forward to organizing myself for another campaign!  I really appreciate all my supporters, who have always pulled through for me.  Thanks especially to my great sponsors, Compass Marketing, the St. Francis Sailing Foundation, the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans, the Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation, and the Southport Sailing Foundation.  I was so happy to represent all of you, and my community, at the Olympic Games. 

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