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Silver Medal at the Pan American Games, by Maggie

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We are so proud to bring home a silver medal from the Pan Am Games and qualify the USA for a 49erFX berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Now we can shift our focus to the US Trials.

The Pan Am Games was an incredible experience in many ways. As the North American qualifier for a country berth at the Olympics, we felt a lot of pressure to perform. This past year, we focused heavily on the psychology of competition and our ability to cope with the stress of high level events, and we’ve made massive improvements in our mental toughness and resilience. We are feeling stronger than ever. Also the venue and athlete village were designed to mimic the Olympics, and it was great to feel the intensity of that atmosphere. The Pan Am Games, just like the Olympics, is governed by uniquely strict rules. For example, we had to adapt to unusual regulations about what clothing was permitted onsite, what content we could post on Facebook and meticulous coaching/equipment regulations.

The 49erFX fleet was small but tough, and the field included the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist and our training partners, the Argentinians. With so few teams, it was hard to put points on our opponents, so we had to do a lot of match racing in the later races. 

Going into the Medal Race, Brazil had locked down the Gold Medal, so the final (double point) race would determine Silver and Bronze positions. With a four point lead on Argentina, they could only pass us if we finished last and they finished first. We started the Medal Race well, and we rounded the first mark in first place. However, on the downwind leg, the breeze became very unstable so we chose to sail conservatively and focus on staying ahead of the fleet. We lost one boat on the second leg, and rounded the bottom mark in second place. 

The wind became even more random and puffy on the third leg, and the race devolved into an awkward match race among three boats - us, Argentina and Canada. With several extra maneuvers to cover Canada and Argentina, we lost some ground on Brazil and Peru. We rounded the last top mark in third place, but it quickly became anyone’s game on the final run to the finish line. All five boats gybe-set at the windward mark, and slowly drifted on port toward the most promising line of wind. 

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Canada was solidly behind Argentina, so they decided to gybe halfway down the run. Argentina covered Canada to protect their bronze medal position. With two boats splitting one way and three the other, the breeze totally died and we nervously decided to make a conservative play of covering just one boat to lock down our Silver Medal. Peru was an easy target on the final leg, so we stuck with them on the right side of the course. The breeze totally died in our corner of the course, and we had a few nervous moments. Argentina won the medal race on the last downwind, and took home the Bronze Medal. We had mixed feelings about our Medal Race strategy, but we did what we needed to in order to lock down the Silver Medal.  

We are so proud of how we handled the stress of this major event, continually improved our speed throughout the week and walked away with great lessons that we can apply to the Olympics. We couldn’t have achieved this major milestone without your generous support. Thank you so much for making this possible.

You can replay races on the live GPS tracker here and see full 49erFX results here.

In total, the US brought home seven medals in eleven classes; read more about our teammates here.

-Maggie

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Maggie Shea