Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sicily and beyond

The last few weeks of June were quite the grand finale to my four months of training and racing in Europe. In just a few days, I will have been on three different continents in one month, sailed in two regattas with the Olympic Test Event on the horizon, and trained in two different disciplines of windsurfing. 

I ended the European tour with the RS:X European Championships in Sicily.  At this event, I was subjected to about every kind of pressure possible.  I’m happy to say I came out on top. 

Forces converged on me during the week of the Europeans. I experienced, to put it universally, birth, death, the end of a significant relationship, physical accidents, and mechanical breakdowns - all during a major competition.  However, these pressures proved to be a blessing.  I had to work harder to find focus and flow during both racing and spending time at the venue, and I did this very well.  I succeeded in putting myself in the “zone” each time I willed it to happen, something I have been working on for years but never quite perfecting the task like I did at the Europeans. 

 I was happy with a number of other things during the competition.  First, my preparation was good - I had a good setup with my equipment and top-level speed.  95% of my starts were good and so were all my mark roundings.  I feel that my board handling is within the level of the top 10 in the fleet.  The competition also pointed out another detail to work on:  intuitive sailing.  Although I have a lot of strategic and tactical knowledge, I sometimes don’t execute well because I am thinking too much!  Getting my responses to fleet and strategy on a more automatic level is a major goal for my next two events in Rio de Janeiro, where I begin next week.

I am currently in San Francisco for ABK windsurfing clinics, where I am consistently improving my sailing and teaching skills.  My time here is short, and next week I fly from San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the Olympic Test Event and the pre-regatta Rio International Sailing Week.  The event will be an important test before the Games next year, as many sailors will be at a peak level.  I will be working with my Spanish training partner and coach in the period between the regattas. I am really looking forward to being in Rio again and to further make gains in my racing.

I do need to voice my disappointment about the organization of the RS:X Europeans; the next paragraph is a complaint to the organizers of this event and if you're skimming this blog quickly, you're excused from reading it.  We experienced too much waiting time during this event.  Waiting on shore isn't rest time - sailors may go out at any moment and must be prepared and focused on the job by staying physically and mentally ready.  Although every regatta contains a component of waiting, the incompetence of the RS:X women's race committee was a little shocking.  With seven fleets to race daily on two courses, the committee had a big job to begin with.  However, on the first day they passed up opportunities to race the women's fleets although conditions were ideal. The 60-some women there, most whose countries used the event as an Olympic qualifier, were sitting in the blazing heat all day without racing.  The committee also held us at the venue each day much longer than needed, and on the water, starts were postponed too long until the wind wasn't ideal and we were sent in - where we waited for hours only to be canceled again in the evening.  This caused scheduling delays and the women had to use the scheduled rest day to race.  Communication was also poor and although course areas were available to race, the committee held us on shore.  In one case, they wanted to send us home, but since they did not communicate well with the shore committee, we were held hours longer than was necessary because they forgot to take our flag down.  In addition, the committee was too lazy to prepare a medal race schedule on the last day, so the fleets were forced to wait onshore morning until evening to race. This caused a massive rush in a small area to pull coach boats out late and pack equipment for the night's ferry off the island.  With better organization, more races could have been held with much less waiting time - a shame because we did have some nice conditions in an attractive venue.

Mondello Beach - mountains, sun, sand, blue water

I believe sometimes racers can be too accepting of poor organization.  Elite athletes will accept what happens during an event to stay positive and focused (in this case, not sitting on shore angry and losing energy).  Then, in the rush to get packed up and long journeys back home, athletes are tired and not interested in speaking out.  However, at this caliber of event, especially with high-stakes national qualifiers in play close to the Olympic year, RS:X class organizers need to be more critical in the selection of venues and race committees, and have a greater understanding of the needs of the athletes. Hopefully we won't experience this microcosm of racing at a higher level during the Olympic Test Event.