I want to take this chance to give you some honest and personal insight about the pressures of campaigning. We finished two solid (and grueling) training blocks in Aarhus, Denmark before we relocated to Germany for Kiel Week regatta. We were in Denmark preparing for the Aarhus World Championships, August 1-13. The Worlds will be a major benchmark in the 2020 Tokyo quadrennium because it marks the beginning of the Olympic Trials and the half-way point in the quad. Every US sailor at this event has one specific goal: qualify the country for a berth at the Olympic games. In the 49erFX class, the top eight countries in the final standings will secure a berth at the games for their country, then the country trials can begin. The rest of the berths will be allocated at the 2019 Worlds and at last-chance continent qualifiers. Long story short, all that matters is being top eight countries at Aarhus Worlds.
Hearing the words “Aarhus Worlds” gives me a nervous feeling in my belly like final exams in college. I remember specifically one final for an Econ class with a crazy professor who wouldn’t tell us the format. All we knew was that it would be hard and some people would fail. All-nighters in the library wouldn’t help because if you didn’t know the material yet, you weren’t going to figure it out in the last desperate hours. A really hard regatta feels similar to those treacherous tests because we can train on and off the water as much as possible, tick off all the boxes we can imagine, but we still don’t ever know exactly what to expect. The conditions will never be the same day to day on any two racecourses. The competitors can be familiar at best. And we can demonstrate our capabilities to ourselves in training a million times over, but there is no guarantee that we can execute what we’re doing in practice on the racecourse 100% of the time.
We know that we can only affect the things that are in our control - our equipment readiness, our physical shape, our moods, our food, our routines, communication, etc. But at the end of the day, we’re competitive athletes, and we want to perform for our team, our country, our supporters, our families, and ourselves.
We can read sports psychology books over and over again, and we can tell ourselves a million times that “results don’t matter; keep the big picture in mind; focus on the process of improvement; trust that results will come; focus on the things that are in our control…” While we do genuinely believe those mantras, we can’t deny that sometimes results DO matter. And it’s our job to figure out how to not let the pressure of what we want to achieve affect the process of getting there.
During the Aarhus training, two months prior to worlds, we needed to spend as much time as physically possible on the water. We averaged 3-4 hour sessions on the water everyday. We sailed against some of the best teams in in the world, including the Kiwis, the Danes, the Swedes, the Norwegians and the Argentinians. We had some shining moments and made huge progress in critical areas on the racecourse like starting mechanics, mark rounding’s, and upwind speed off the starting line. We are encouraged and excited by our steps forward, but we also know that it’s not always easy to apply what you learn in practice onto the racecourse immediately. So we’re trying to be patient with this process, and to let our desire to reach our goal motivate us in a positive way.
Aarhus is a really challenging venue. The breeze is typically offshore, so it seems that many racecourses will be plagued with oscillating shifts and a huge range of velocity. After sailing on the race course areas, we concluded that there were no patterns to the shifts and instead we should expect randomness. Much like that Econ test that gave me so much anxiety as a 20 year old, we will go into the Worlds not knowing what to expect from this venue. But this will be different because we’re older, wiser and stronger than we’ve ever been, and we have a fantastic team supporting us. We are well-prepared for this test, and we’re excited to get racing. We will allow our thorough preparation to give us confidence going into the event, and we can’t wait to light it up in Aarhus!