Wednesday, October 28, 2015

RS:X World Championships, Al Mussanah, Oman

Last Saturday saw the conclusion of the very interesting RS:X World Championships in Al Mussanah, Oman.  For many international sailors, this was the culmination of an Olympic Team selection or a qualifier for their country’s slot in the Olympic Games.  Six new countries qualified for the Olympics; unfortunately the Americans were unable to qualify at this event.  We have one more shot in Miami as a continental qualifier, and we will qualify in Miami, regardless of performance.

In Oman, the women’s RS:X fleet was the strongest it’s ever been.  With high temperatures, light wind, and very choppy sea conditions, racing was very much biased towards the technical and physical, rather than strategical.  Physically, I held up really well as my fitness program has always been one of my strengths.  However, my technique was a bit off in the chop initially, and once I had dialed in the conditions, it was too late to make gains in the overall fleet standings.  A few small deficiencies in acceleration I had been suspecting during my training this year were accentuated in the light and choppy conditions.

 A start with the hotel in the background. (Photo: Jesus Renedo/Oman Sail)
Oman for me was a cumulation of all the problems that have been contributing to my underperformance this year.  Not enough rest, no time at home, and a constant fight for money have left me with lower energy levels.  Although I genuinely enjoy sailing at these events and feel positive and focused, I have been fighting just to keep treading water.  The fleet has become more and more professional, well funded and organized.  Before 2014, the front and back of the fleet was more well-defined, but in the past two years the middle of the fleet has become very strong.  Before 2012, it was possible to sail part-time and still get results.  Now, it’s almost impossible. With the USA’s Olympic Trials fast approaching, there are a lot of problems to still find an answer to.  Miami can be a mixed bag of conditions, competitors and requirements, but success is always an option.

 Photo: Jesus Renedo/Oman Sail
Performance always comes down to the individual and their situation, but politics are beginning to play an increasing role in the actions of the RS:X class and Olympic classes in an effort to keep ISAF or the IOC happy.  The selection of Oman as the venue for a World Championships became more controversial as the event approached and sailors had a chance to think about it.  While the organization and execution of the event itself was very good, logistical and political issues surfaced leading up to the event.  Oman as a venue,with its daily thermal breeze, offers the possibility of timely racing each day.  However, the only possibility for accommodation is to stay at the luxury hotel, which is too expensive for sailors who pay for themselves.  The hotel made about 700,000 euro from the event.  In addition to the expensive accommodation and food, Al Mussanah is a tricky place to get to.  There is only one airline that flies to Muscat that will take windsurfing equipment on board, which had the unfortunate result of a huge delay to our flight on departure.  The hotel is one hour from the airport, and transportation for sailors and equipment is not cheap.  There needs to be an airline sponsor for events in the future to prevent these complicated logistics.  Also, nobody takes credit cards, even at the airport.  What? 

 How much gear can we stuff onto one plane?
In addition to the logistcal hassle, the Israel windsurfing team could not compete due to misunderstandings during the process of issuing visas for Oman, resulting in lost opportunities for these sailors.  Oman itself only has one windsurfer (male) who did not compete at the Worlds, and no women sailing at all.  With no windsurfers competing at major events, Oman is not a country that is a good representative for the RS:X Class.  The political aspects of competing in Oman should have been discussed at the RS:X class meeting at which it was voted upon, but sailors are not necessarily good at paying attention to politics.  As a result of this sudden wake up call, many sailors are also questioning the venue for the 2016 Worlds:  Eliat, Israel.  Will this venue offer a fair opportunity for all sailors to enter the country and compete?

Even with the regatta-related issues, Oman was a special place to visit and I greatly enjoyed the short amount of time there.  At the opening ceremony, we experienced a small taste of the country’s culture (this could have been really cheesy for the locals, however).  We got to sit upon carpets and pillows, eat local food, get henna tattoos and check out some camels.  Most of the people, especially women, were friendly and curious about we westerners.  The people are educated and intelligent, and speak English well.  When we visited the local village, several people stopped and politely asked to take pictures with us, or with their kids and us, because we were very different looking.  It was a positive sample of curiosity and good intentions from both cultures, without the influence of news, politics, and disagreeable governments.   I was pleased that I could be a good ambassador from the USA to the folks living in Oman.