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Thoughts from Olympic Sailors One Year Out From Tokyo 2020

With one year out from Tokyo 2020, US Sailing and members of the US Sailing Team gathered recently to chat about their Olympic experiences – past, present and future. Briana Provancha, Olympian and current US Sailing Board member, moderated the session. Foundation grantees Stephanie Roble/Maggie Shea (49er FX), Paige Railey (Laser Radial), Luke Muller (Finn), Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs (Nacra 17), and Charlie Buckingham (Laser), talked about their Olympic journey – following are excerpts from the discussion:

How excited are you that it’s now just one year to the Tokyo Olympics?
Luke Muller
– I’m extremely excited and extremely grateful, I think with the worldwide situation and Covid 19 it was a long road and I didn’t know if it was going to end short or if it was going to continue on. It was a relief to know I was nominated to Team USA and the US Olympic Team and yeah, I’m overjoyed. I’m really grateful to be out sailing and working hard and striving to do well next year in Tokyo.

It takes a village to get to the Olympics – what do you think this means to your family and friends?
As athletes, it means the world to our village, the people who support us and that join in our sacrifices to make it happen – the birthdays not gone to, weddings not taken part in etc. My family in particular, everyone is deeply into sailing – my brother runs a 29er team, my sister is the director of the US Sailing Team, my little brother is a college sailor and 49’er sailor so it’s a family affair and I’m grateful for all their support over these years – it means a lot to us.

Many athletes refer to you as the resident Olympic expert – how do you enjoy yourself through the grind of an Olympic campaign?
I view sailing as a long sport with long goals. I set out when I was 15 to be a pro athlete – what I realized is that you’re not going to achieve all your goals in one cycle and if you want to do an Olympic campaign maybe it’ll be 10-15 years in the making. My parents always taught me that every time you get knocked down you have to get back up and there’s no question about it. Life’s also short so I try to enjoy the process as I go along. Each day I am working toward my goals is another day I am growing in experience in life. Each day I try to take advantage of it as much as I can and enjoy everything that comes with a goal which means losing and winning.

What does it mean to do this together and what moment are you most looking forward to sharing together in Tokyo?
Maggie: Steph and I first sailed the 29er together in 2005 – against Briana– she kicked our butt! Steph and I were rivals before that in the Laser Radial and had a lot of respect for each other as competitors. Since we have become really good friends and sailing with and against each other in so many boats in the last 15 years, it’s been quite a journey and a privilege and I feel lucky to be able to do it with one of my best friends. We’ve grown up a lot together as teammates, athletes, sailors, people…it’s been such a pleasure to do it with someone you really care about and love. I’m really looking forward to sharing the experience with Steph.
Steph:  I agree with Paige – it’s so much about the journey and the process and I’m lucky to do this with Maggie by my side who is someone I really enjoy going out on the water with everyday and competitive with – even during our quarantine workouts we were trying to kill each other…and it was successful – we had good workouts.

With 18,000 people (incidentally the largest Olympic Village in the history of the Games), what was the Village in Rio like?
I’ll never forget when I first walked in – there were all these good looking people walking around, and all these buff bodies, you’re surrounded by people who put all their dedication, everything into their sport – I was amazed because you see all these different types of bodies as well – the wrestlers, the gymnasts and the tall basketball guys. I thought in life that I was a pretty tall person until I went into the Village then I felt so short at 5’-8”!
Charlie: I think the other cool thing too is that all the country – at least in Rio – share buildings together, it was cool to build a sense of camaraderie with athletes from other sports. Our sailing team had a great relationship going into the Games but getting to know other American athletes and talking about their experiences was great as well. I think that’s a unique aspect of the Olympics.

How is Enoshima as a venue and what are its challenges?
Paige: It’s been blistering hot when we’ve been there. My coach is a big dude and I’m from Florida and you think I’d be able to handle the heat but I have to say it is incredibly hot in Japan. We are up for anything that can keep us cooler! Aside from that, the people in Japan are amazing, so helpful, they are by the rules, which is great. I love it, everything is incredibly organized to a tee. It’s clean – I enjoy it. All the venues I have been to for the Games have been different – this one is just a different culture and experience. It’s fun to go there and see how another country is going to run the Olympics.
Maggie: “We were recently training in Miami and trying to figure out the heat situation – we had record breaking heat one weekend and I thought, “I can’t do this.”
Steph: I think a big part of it is hydration – its not something that you just do on the water, it’s a fulltime job outside of sailing and making sure when you come off the water that you are rehydrating. We were learning about sweat rates and how much we were losing in a typical session and we were also experimenting a little with some ice vests and also with just having some ice packs down our life jackets between drills to help us cool down. When you wash down the boat at the end of the day the hose water on your face feels so good – it still feels hot but good.
Maggie: We learned a lot about the right combinations of electrolyes and what time of day you need them etc. At least the Pacific Ocean in Japan is a little cooler than Miami.

Riley – you and Anna just recently reunited in Long Beachwhat does your training look like as you approach the Olympics?
We’ve had some time off lately from sailing the Nacra – we did go sailing today on the 17 – thought it was only right to go sailing on the day that would have been the (2020) Opening Ceremony. Independently we’ve been working out pretty aggressively in Florida – I’ve been sailing A-Cats, kiting and cycling every single day, independently we’re keeping track of it and improving day by day. It’s still a bit unknown as everything in life is right now so as far as preparation, we’re in control of what we can – knowing our equipment to a tee and what works for us. I recently taught Anna how to kite so got her ripping around on both tacks quite proficiently (both laugh) after the second day but as far as 17 sailing and keeping it fresh, because we joined up just last year together, our pathway to the trials was pretty intense and quite aggressive as far as our training regime. For us we’re just trying to keep it fun right now and get back in the boat, perhaps do some coastal sailing, maybe sail around Catalina one of these days.
Anna: We’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of different training as well like me learning how to kite foil and A-Cat sailing as well to supplement our Nacra training since now we have the time and resources to do so. I think that’s what we were missing all last year, we just went straight into racing after not being in the boat for three weeks I think it was. All we did last year was race so we’re trying to actually be training now.

Crossing the line after your first race in the Olympics – after all the hard work you put in what does that feel like?
I was having a really good race and had to make a tough decision in the middle of the race and a couple of things didn’t go my way and I lost probably 15 boats and crossed the finish line thinking, “The first race of the Olympics has finished and now that opportunity has gone.” That was a really interesting feeling and it showed me that when you are on the water its important to practice with intention and purpose because that moment comes really quickly. The more you can prepare yourself to that moment in every day practice the more prepared you will be – being in the moment and taking every practice seriously to be ready for that moment.

Watch out for part 2…

Olympian & Resident Expert Paige Railey


Michelle SladeThoughts from Olympic Sailors One Year Out From Tokyo 2020