From watching sailboats off the beach of his native Barbados as a young boy to now training for the Olympics, with an impressive list of performances at international sailing events to his credit, 17-year-old Gregory Douglas is a hot prospect and up-and-coming Caribbean sailing star in the Laser class.
“I loved to go to the beach when I was growing up,” Gregory explains. “Then after my Dad and I took a sailing course together when I was nine years old, I started sailing Optimist dinghies. What I loved, and love, most is just being out on the water. It’s different every time you go out and that’s what makes it fun as well as challenging.”
Gregory showed an aptitude for sailing right away. He and his family, launched into international competitions that helped him learn skills that are tough to acquire where big fleets aren’t found. He competed regionally in St. Thomas’ Scotiabank Caribbean International Optimist Regatta and in Schoelcher, Martinique, at the Semaine Nautique. He also sailed in the U.S. Nationals, the IODA South Americans, and Canada’s CORK Optimist Regatta, in addition to sailing in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 IODA Worlds in Texas, the Canary Islands, and Ecuador, respectively.
“Sailing at the highest level in the Optimist inspired Gregory to follow the path of many successful Optimist sailors to the Olympics,” says his dad, Peter. “The percentage of medalists at the Games being former Optimist sailors has been steadily increasing over recent years, reaching 78 percent at the Athens Olympics.”
A gain of 20 pounds in weight and four inches in height over one year in 2005 led Gregory to make the switch from Optimists to Lasers.
“My first summer sailing Lasers, I was in an international regatta and found myself up with the top guys,” he explains. “I was keeping up with them, right in there and that’s when I first starting thinking about the Olympics.”
Both of Gregory’s parents attended school in Canada and thought it would be good for their son to do the same. “I entered the Lakefield College School for high school. It’s located about two hours north of Toronto,” he says.
Gregory has received extensive support in training in his sailing career during the past few years. No wonder. The school’s motto is ‘A sound mind in a sound body’. The 155-acre facility and its grounds are set on Lake Katchewanooka, where Gregory practices in fresh-water, often chilly conditions four days a week. He’s also benefited from participating with various teams that provided training partners and excellent coaching. In March 2007, for example, he spent a week in Cabarete, on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, receiving one-on-one coaching. This past winter, he competed in Nordic Skiing in order to maintain a high level of fitness and to experience another Olympic sport.
As a result, Gregory has shown steady progress and found success competing in ISAF graded sailing events. In fact, he’s the first Barbadian sailor to compete at the ISAF Youth Worlds. Highlights of his career to date include competing in the 2006 and 2007 Youth Worlds, sailing in several grade 1 events in North America and Europe, and winning the 2007 Canadian Youth Sailing Championship.
“Competing twice at the Youth Worlds, with the support of ISAF through the Athlete Participation Program, has further inspired Greg to seek to compete at the Beijing Olympics,” says his father. “He currently meets one of the criteria for an invitation place, having achieved an ISAF Ranking of 134 in the Laser, which represents the 39th country on the individual ranking list.”
Gregory is completing his critical last year of high school this year and plans to enter Queen’s University in September 2008 to study Engineering. He’ll continue to compete in sailing as the University participates in the US Collegiate sailing circuit. However, educational commitments don’t allow Gregory to travel to Australia in January/February 2008 to compete in the final qualifier for the 2008 Olympics.
“If awarded a wild card position,” says Gregory, “I’ll prepare for the Olympics by continuing to train through the winter months and by competing in several ISAF grade 1 events leading up to the Olympics, as well as obtaining additional high-level coaching support.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.
The Laser Standard, also called the International Laser Class sailboat, is a one-design boat chosen as a Men’s Olympic Class boat since 1996. This one-person boat measures 13-feet 10-inches long, with a 4-foot 7-inch beam, 2 foot 7 inch draft and 7.06-square meter sail area. The design was built by Bruce Kirby to emphasize simplicity and performance.
HELPING PROSPECTIVE CARIBBEAN OLYMPIANS
Caribbean athletes often welcome financial support to make it to the Olympics. Readers who want to donate to Douglas’ Olympic campaign can contact him via the Barbados Sailing Association, Email [email protected]