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Reflections on Quingdao and 2008 Summer Olympics

The Caribbean was well represented in sailing at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Quingdao, China. The Dominican Republic’s Raul Aguayo, U.S. Virgin Islands’ Thomas Barrows and Barbados’ Gregory Douglas raced in the Laser class. For these sailors, dreams of competing in the Olympics turned into reality in China, bringing great pride to their friends, families—and to readers of this magazine who have followed their careers.

To wrap up our year-long series, “Countdown to Beijing,” All at Sea’s Carol Bareuther asked each sailor to reflect on the event and his future in sailing.

“Being in China was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” says Douglas. “The highlight was walking out in the opening ceremonies and seeing all those people.” 

Barrows says, “It was great to meet and converse with people of such a different culture. I also really enjoyed getting to see the historical sites around Beijing.”

On the sailing side, Aguayo says, ‘The Olympics were an extremely challenging experience. The level of all the participants was so high that any small mistake or shift would cost you several places. There was also something different compared to many other events. You could feel more tension in most of the athletes. On the other hand, it was especially nice to see all the top sailors from the other classes, which I normally don’t get to talk to. There was more mix between classes.”

Sailors were only able to complete nine of the 10 races planned, even after using the two designated rest days, due to light winds.  The light shifty breeze combined with a strong current created very tough conditions, says Douglas. “You had to be 100 percent focused all the time about what was going on.”  The event proved to be a great learning opportunity.

“I was able to gain experience sailing at the highest level of the sport, which will make it easier for me to be more comfortable in the future,” says Barrows. “I was also able to watch how the top guys went about their pre-regatta training and witness the strategies they used during the regatta to do well.”

In the final standings, Barrows finished 21st, Aguayo 40th and Douglas 43rd.

“I was able to beat some really good people, so that was exciting and encouraging,” Barrows says, adding, “The highlight of the event for me was rounding the first weather mark in third one race. I finished 11th in that race but it was because of tactical mistakes and not a boat speed issue.”

Aguayo says, “Most times, I think I did good because I never gave up trying to pass boats in any race. But sometimes, when looking at the result, I think I should have been up a few places higher. My worst race was a 38, and still I ended up 40 because everyone had some good races that moved them up. In other conditions this would have been very attainable.”

He adds, “The highlight was sailing the windy race on the second to last day. It was so nice to finally hike and feel the boat going fast!”

Though Douglas didn’t do as well on the scoreboard as he would have liked, he says, “I learned so much and I am happy about that.” 

What’s next for these three young men?

“Going to the Olympics was my goal as an athlete,” says Aguayo. “Unfortunately, sailing is not a sport that has much funding in the Dominican Republic, so it is really hard to do a good campaign. Therefore, I have started my professional career and work in my family’s business. Hopefully, I can get enough funding to keep sailing with the Central American and Caribbean Games of 2010 in mind. If I can work and sail at the same time is yet to be determined.”

Both Douglas and Barrows are college students.

“Now that I am finished at this Olympics, I am focusing on school. I’ve just started the engineering program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario,” says Douglas.

Barrows is entering his junior year at Yale University. “In terms of sailing, right now I am focused on college sailing. This summer the Laser Worlds are in Nova Scotia and I hope to do that. Once I graduate from college though, I plan to focus on Laser sailing and will try to make the Olympics in 2012.”

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

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