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Countdown to Beijing: Caribbean Olympic Sailors

To make it to the Olympics means reaching the pinnacle of a sport and it takes years of training and dedication. But what do athletes do when their Olympic bid is over? Where does this incredible life experience lead them? All At Sea asked a number of the Caribbean’s past Olympic sailors.

Enrique Figueroa, Puerto Rico
Sailing since the age of 11, Figueroa has a long list of Hobie 16 championships under his belt as well as Olympic bids in the Tornado in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. In the wake of his 2004 campaign, Figueroa says, “I keep busy sailing in Tornados in Europe and at home in Puerto Rico. We won the Hobie Tiger Worlds in 2005 and the Hobie 16 U.S. National Championships in 2005, 2006.”

The chance to compete in the Olympics, says Figueroa, “has given me a great challenge. It’s given me the opportunity to sail on the best boat, or I should say the best multi-hull, possible against a great group of sailors that share the same goal.”

Peter Holmberg, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
There is only one sailor from the Caribbean who has ever medaled in the Summer Olympics and it is Holmberg. “Professional sailing was just getting started when I won my silver medal (in the Finn class) in 1988, and I was very fortunate that the Maxi’s and 50’s came to St. Thomas for regattas that year and I got asked to sail with them. 

“This opened the door to professional sailing for me and I have continued to make it my career ever since, taking jobs all around the world. Since this start in pro sailing, I have been fortunate to race on everything from Decision 35 Cats to the 130 foot J Class Yacht Ranger, and along the way won the 50 Foot World Cup, the Maxi World Championships, the Match Racing World Tour, and the America’s Cup. It has been a wonderful journey thus far!”

The Olympics, says Holmberg, “IS what made this all possible. The Olympics is like school – you learn that if you set goals, work very hard at it, then you can achieve results. This skill set is what can carry you into a successful career in sailing (and any other career for that matter).  Competing in the Olympics and being successful showed me that I had the ability to sail with the best in the world.  On top of this, winning a medal opens huge doors and gives you the choice of making sailing a career. Without doubt, a successful Olympic campaign is the best route to a professional sailing career.”

Robert ‘Robby’ Hirst, British Virgin Islands
Hirst represented his island nation in the Laser class at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and continues today as a sailing leader in the IC24 class. But, Hirst’s day job is land-based. “I started working in the financial services industry in the BVI starting right after the Games in 1996. I had completed a university degree in economics 18 months before the Games.”

Antigua’s Olympians
Seven Antiguans have represented the island in the Olympics and all are still on island and active in the sport and in the marine trades. First, there’s boardsailor Eli Fuller, who competed in 1988 and today operates Adventure Antigua, a boating tour business.
In 1992, Carlo Falcone and Paula Victoria sailed Star, Franklin Braithewaite competed in Finn, Karen Portch in the Europe, and Ty Brodie on a sailboard. Falcone was instrumented in starting Dragon racing at Harmony Hall, Braithewaite owns and operates A&F Sails, and Portch works for Watermaker Services.
Karl James sailed Lasers in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and now is a sailing instructor at the Antigua Yacht Club.

Cor van Aanholt, Curacao
He’s a Sunfish World Champion, but van Aanholt represented the Netherlands Antilles in the Laser Class at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. “After the Olympics I continued putting energy into my investments and started a youth sailing program in Curacao, but purely on a volunteer basis,” says van Aanholt.

“Being an Olympian opened many doors,” he continues. “I believe we got sponsorships much easier. Our program today is being covered in the media quite a lot and I think that when we started it attracted young kids to the program. Now Youth Sailing Curacao (YSCO) boasts a membership of around 140 children of which the most energetic train 14 hours a week and travel around the world participating in major international events. The majority of the member kids are not striving for successes in competition. They just want to have a great time with their friends. That is why YSCO also organizes moonlight sails with campfires, treasure hunts and a yearly sailing weekend at a little island 25 miles off Curacao. At these activities, kids of all ages and sailing abilities have fun together.”

Michael Green, St. Lucia
He mounted two Olympic campaigns for two islands, representing Barbados in the Star Class in 1988, and St. Lucia in the Laser class in 1996. In the years following the Olympics, Green has continued to run his boating business and has delved into real estate sales for the past three years working for the Landings in St. Lucia, an up market marina development.

“I am still amazed at how people treat you once they know you are an Olympian and I must say I have used it in my boat business to my advantage,” says Green, “and even in the real estate sales, it’s nice to drop it in if you can, as it does change people’s whole attitude toward you.”

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

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