It’s not easy for an Olympic hopeful to sit on the bench while her nemeses are hitting the all-important major pre-Olympic European events, like the recent Trofeo Princesa Sofia held in Palma de Mallorca. But Erika Reineke is still rehabilitating an injury, albeit on the home stretch, that she incurred back in February racing with the US SailGP team in Sydney, Australia. She was running across the trampoline on a tack and got her foot stuck in a small little space on the tramp; she was wearing new shoes and the tip of the shoe was just the perfect size to get stuck. She fell and broke her ankle badly.
“It was kind of a freak accident,” Reineke smiled wryly. “Fortunately, I still have plenty of time to get strong again before the Olympic test event this summer for which I qualified. The unfortunate part is that I wasn’t able to participate in Palma, but I’ll only miss that one major Olympic event.”
Reineke’s experience this quad is completely different to her lead up to the 2020 Olympics, held in 2021. In 2017, she had just graduated from college and was finally able to sail full-time for the first time. This time around Reinecke has had a lot less time in her boat of choice, the Laser Radial, because she started out a 2024 campaign in the 49’er FX with best friend Lucy Wilmot.
“I fell back into the Worlds not knowing what to expect and ended up doing super well,” she commented. “The boat felt good beneath me, and even though I had just two years in this current quad to get up to speed, I had the right people behind me this time to build on what I have learned over the past couple of quads and really execute. My confidence last quad versus this quad is way higher even with less time.”
When asked how challenging it is to switch boats at this level, Reineke, a St Francis Sailing Foundation grantee reported, “I had a such a good background in the Radial already, although I have never sailed with a carbon bottom section because in the last quad we had an aluminum bottom section. When I got back in the boat it felt a little weird to me – the sheeting was a little different, the sail settings were a little different but once I got put in the right direction by my coach – this is the layout and this is what should be good – I took off and it was fine.”
As Reineke explained, in a boat like the 49er versus the Radial, the tactics are similar as are the over-arching big picture themes. A difference in a fast boat like the FX or sailing the F50 or any foiling boat is that the speed is greater so there are fewer boat handling maneuvers that you want to do compared to smaller boats.
“Hopping back and forth between boats, I think it would be hard for anyone to go from the Radial into the FX and expect to perform well because that boat is really boat-handling specific – you need many days to actually nail the boat handling and the settings,” Reineke said. “The Radial is different – you can boat handle relatively quickly and if you know how to sail and start – the big picture things – you’re already in the game.”
Going it alone versus having someone to share the journey has been a transition for Reineke but she and Wilmot continue to talk most days.
“I do feel like she is still very much involved in this campaign, she’s very supportive,” Reineke said. “We still bounce ideas off each other and even though I am alone in my boat, I do have Eric Bowers, my coach nearby. He lives in my hometown (Fort Lauderdale) so we catch up regularly – we talk daily about sailing, logistics, strength and conditioning. I’m just so head over heels excited to have Eric nearby. Steve, for example, in the last quad and most of the coaches I have had during Olympic sailing have lived in different countries so the access to them wasn’t as frequent so having access to Eric every single day which is this maximized opportunity for learning.”
Reineke considers that she is well positioned in the top ten internationally in the fleet thanks to her experience in the boat. She notes that she’s really had to pay attention to her weight, having sailed the last quad too light which she believes ultimately hindered her performance especially at really breezy events.
“I’ve really been able to get much stronger which has really upped my skills – once I got the right weight it was clear that I am very competitive with the top girls,” Reineke stated with confidence. “Tactically and strategically, I am positioned well as I have had more experience in different boat classes which helps my tactical and strategical game plan. Sailing the 49er FX, where you are constantly trying to get leverage on the course and sailing faster boats, we’re limited by certain things and we’re always just figuring out what the limitations are. That experience has been really helpful, so despite my current situation I feel very confident against the fleet!”
Sailing pretty much consumes Reineke’s life these days, beyond her Olympic campaign, she’s also working with the US SailGP team, and the America’s Cup (AC) Women’s team, balancing three very high-level aspects of the sport. She’s participated in recent AC camps that American Magic/New York Yacht Club have organized which are gaining momentum as the Cup gets closer. She’s also excited about life post Olympics as the time right now for women in sailing is heating up.
“I think they all really complement one another, I’m taking each day at face value and trying to learn as much as I can, these are all huge opportunities, and both SailGP and the AC Women’s sailing translates significantly to my quad training,” she said. “While my personal goal is to go back to school and get my MBA after sailing, the women’s professional circuit is just starting and I think it’s a real opportunity. The women’s America’s Cup team, females on the SailGP boats, I’m getting more excited about the Moth Worlds – I feel so lucky that these opportunities are coming along!” – Michelle Slade