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Countdown to Beijing 2008 – First in a Series

The countdown is on for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, and the Olympic Sailing Competition which takes place in Qingdao August 9 to 21, 2008.

Last month marked make-it or break-it time, for over 1400 sailors from 77 nations as 75% of all national places were to be decided at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships ending July 13 in Cascais, Portugal, prior to our printing date for this month’s All at Sea.

“This is the big one for us,” said Puerto Rico’s Enrique ‘Kike’ Figueroa, at the International Rolex Regatta in March. Figueroa will make his fifth Olympic bid in the Tornado class, and second bid with crew Jorge Hernandez.

Olympic classes for 2008 will include the 49er, Men’s and Women’s Neil Pryde RS:X, Finn, Men’s Laser, Laser Radial, Men’s 470, Women’s 470, Yingling, Tornado, and Star.

An important part of looking ahead for sailors focused on Beijing is looking behind. That is, getting an idea of what it takes to mount an Olympic campaign from those who have traveled this route before—and those who have helped them get there.

The first big topic that stands out is funding the training.  Money usually comes from a variety of sources ranging from the sailors themselves to a mixture of private donations, community fundraising, and support by national sailing organizations.

Curacao’s Cor van Aanholt, who represented the Netherlands Antilles in the Laser Class at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, says, “I funded the campaign myself.” 

Mike Green, who represented Barbados in the Star class during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and his home island of St. Lucia in Lasers during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, says, “I had some help through our Olympic association. But, at the time, there was not much money. This was especially so from a small island that saw a non-national jet around the world to sail. This didn’t go down well as you could imagine. So, most of it came out of my own pocket and that was the main factor in not getting in as much sailing as I would have liked. Basically, for a year or two before, a group of us from the Caribbean went to any event in the States that was tractable, and we had to rent boats, cars, hotels etc., so it wasn’t cheap. I reckon even with help it cost me about $30,000 for the period. You could triple that now.”

Funding was also tough for the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Tim Pitts, who hails from St. Croix and represented the territory in the Laser Class at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. “I started off with a lot of debt and did it cheaply. I hit my close circles first with small fundraisers and personal letters. Then, I spent two weeks on the fundraising, writing letters and Emails. My coach helped a lot by hitting up businesses and local circles. Fundraising was a lot easier after I had the bid to the Olympics secured.”

As for training, Pitts says, “I wasn’t in school or working full time, both tasks that would have made my campaign less effective. So usually, I sailed five to seven days a week, usually three on the water, with one day break, and in the gym six days a week, sometimes twice a day for cardio.”

Curacao’s Van Aanholt says, “My physical shape was my weak point as I was in my 40s. Because I was sailing a Laser, I was in the gym four times a week. I had participated in many major Laser Championships when I was younger, ranking second in the European Championships, fourth in the World Championships and first in the Caribbean Championship, so I had a lot of experience. Still, having a family with four young children, I didn’t have the time to do a lot of on-the-water training or to visit a lot of international events.”

St. Lucia’s Green also didn’t get to train as much as he would have liked. “Sailing in your backyard does not help unless you have good competition to sail against. So, for two years before the Olympics, I traveled all over the Caribbean and the States just to get the competition.”

There are defiantly plusses and minuses to mounting an Olympic sailing campaign from the Caribbean.  Nick Castruccio, past president of the Virgin Islands Sailing Association (VISA), says, “On the plus side is the year round warm weather and wind.”

St. Lucia’s Green agrees. “I used to get up at 5 a.m. and go take the boat out for an hour or so of practice, then change, and go to work. That’s pretty hard to do in a lot of countries.”

Curacao’s Van Aanholt says, “Living in the Caribbean means you can work on technique the whole year around. However, once you have reached a certain level, you will need to go around the world to participate in big events.”  That’s the downside to living in the Caribbean.

“On the negative side,” says the Virgin Islands’ Castruccio, “is travel and transport of equipment. In the states, for example, one can trailer his equipment behind a van or truck and crisscross the country to attend events relatively cheaply compared to a sailor-athlete in our area. A serious competitor would station equipment in Europe as well as the Americas to cut down on shipping costs for boats like 470s, Finns, 49ers, Stars, Yinglings and Tornados. Thus the RSX Board and Laser suit the sailor-athlete from smaller nations as the doorway to Olympic sailing. In fact, selection of the Laser Radial to replace the more expensive Europe (as the women dinghy) was the reason it was selected for the 2008 Games.”

It may be easier to qualify from a small Caribbean nation, but the competition puts sailors from a destination where there’s not the depth of field at a disadvantage. “I had to qualify in the Olympic Regatta held in Miami and had to finish in the top eleven or so countries in the world. As you can imagine, the North American, South American, Caribbean, and some European countries were all there. It wasn’t a walk in the park,” says Green. 

Still, Van Aanholt and Green agree their effort was worth the Olympic pursuit.  Van Aanholt says, “When I was in the prime time of my sailing career, I quit sailing to work on my social and professional career. So, I didn’t participate in the Olympics at the time that I was at a level where I might have had a chance to win a medal. The 2000 Olympics in Sydney gave me a chance to fulfill that goal and from that, I gained a great memory and respect.”

As for Green, “Sailing in the Olympics was a dream I had since I was a kid, especially after I represented England in the Youth Worlds in 1972. The Worlds were held in Germany as were the Olympics that same year.”

Green adds, “The biggest thrill I think of any Olympian other than winning a medal is the opening ceremony were you are walking behind your flag with hundreds of thousands clapping and shouting and millions watching on TV. It’s a special feeling that will be with me the rest of my life and I was honored to be able to do it not just once but twice.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

Caribbean ISAF Member National Authorities that Entered Sailors in the Olympic Qualifier, the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships

Antigua: Men’s Laser
Barbados: Men’s Laser, Men’s Finn
Dominican Republic: Men’s Laser
Puerto Rico: Tornado, Men’s Windsurfer
U.S. Virgin Islands: Men’s Windsurfer, Men’s Laser, Woman’s Laser Radial, 470, 49er
Source: www.cascaisworlds2007.com

All at Sea is interested in hearing from past, present, and future Caribbean Olympians for this series.  Please contact Chris Goodier at stcroixchris@gmail.com if you are willing to be interviewed.

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