I arrived to Palma de Mallorca for the Princess Sofia Trophy a week before racing started on March 24, itching to get on the water after all the hard work we put together in Florida. We had a nice mixture of conditions leading into the event, a couple of nice sea breeze days as well as a flurry of breezy offshore conditions to properly stretch the legs from the jet lag. Right away during the pre-regatta training against my competitors, I could see the benefits of all our work showing. The most interesting part was seeing how all of the work John and I had put into the light wind in Miami actually improved my stronger wind speed. Much had to do with continued improvement and tuning in my fitness, but the light wind helped build sensitivity and accuracy to the concepts and techniques for highest levels of upwind boat speed. Now I could carry over that same understanding and feel into the stronger winds.
Going into the event, we had a few main focuses. First, starting strategy and techniques was a high priority, learning from our experiences from Sailing World Cup Miami. Secondly, apply that high-level boat speed techniques we worked so hard on. Third was stick to centerline on the downwind legs to minimize distance sailed and allow my downwind boat speed to really flourish. Finally, it was really important to really stay present in the moment. More on the importance that presence and appreciation for the moment played in my performance later.
The first two days of racing consisted of four qualifying races for the 187 boat fleet, split into three groups. We raced in the classic Palma sea breeze building up to 12 knots each day. On day three we were split into gold fleet and another Palma sea breeze. Day four produced strong Northwest winds up to 20 knots whipping through the mountain range creating crazy shifts and a large range of winds across the course, making very difficult racing. The final day produced a combination of the sea breeze and the incoming cold front gradient wind from the South for another nice day of hiking.
I sailed an extremely consistent series scoring a 4-9-4-4-6-6-8-11-3-(39), discarding the final race with no worries, taking a 12-point lead into the medal race. I very much stuck to the goals that John and I set out at the middle of the week. My starts were actually inconsistent, half the time really good and putting me into the 10 at the first mark right away, able to play the game, and comfortably secure and solid score. The other half the time when my starts were poor, I did a really good job to salvage those bad starts with good speed and smart decisions that put me mid-fleet at the top mark, now in a strong position to mount a comeback. My comebacks were executed extremely well with strong downwind speed and savvy second beats to consistently climb back into the top 10 by the finish line. To string together a score line of nearly all top 10 finishes together like that is something that is not easy to do, as many of my competitors such as legend and now good friend Robert Scheidt kindly complimented to me after the event.
Now I entered the double points medal race for the top 10 boats in gold medal position. I held a 12-point lead, and enough of a gap that I was guaranteed at least Silver Medal. With that distinct advantage, the plan was to attack my good friend on the circuit with the number 2 jersey on, Elliot Hanson from Great Britain. Conditions were heavy with 20-25 knot winds from the west and 2-meter waves. Elliot definitely has strong speed, so I didn’t want to give him an opportunity to get into space and speed away from me, but rather rely on my match racing and team racing experience to drive him back in the fleet to secure the win.
As the sequence ticked down, it became apparent to me that it would be hard to control him with the big wind and waves, so I figured my best move was to go for a “last second” attack to either force him into a penalty or over the line. I went for that move with about 20 seconds to go, hooking him to leeward. He quickly spun out of the hook, I called for an umpire ruling, but they ruled green flag and no penalty, which I believe was the right call at the time. I was hoping that by spinning him off, he would be forced to tack into another boat, and either foul them or into bad traffic. Unfortunately, he was able to tack back in space, where I was suddenly right next to the pin end of the line. I hardly had any room to maneuver to accelerate and sitting nearly over the line. Scrambling to just get off the line without hitting the pin or be over early, I escaped, but now very much on my heels with a poor acceleration while the rest of the fleet was full speed off the line. Sure enough, Elliot got a flying start and was off to a quick lead while I was rolled off the line in 10th and last position.
Now I had my back against the wall. This was a moment where I could either accept that I messed up and accept that it wasn’t going to happen, or I was going to fight and put everything out there to make it happen in a condition that has never been my strength. To say the least, I chose the latter and put it all on the line.
With Elliot clearly with a jump on the fleet and looking to be on his way to a medal race win, I knew I had to pass some really fast guys and finish at least 6th in the race to secure Gold. The remainder of the first beat I just told myself to keep it close and stay in the game, rounding the top mark in 10th but within striking distance. On the downwind, I just let it fly and see how much distance I could make up, rounding the bottom gate even with 8th place. The second beat I knew I had to put all the hard gym work to the test and “hike until I throw up.” I got a nice right shift, now in 7th place, closing in on the next two boats and with a considerable gap in front of the trailing boats. Now at the final top mark approaching the final run, I had the words go through my head, “Lets Fly!” to pass that final boat. I had a good exit from the top mark catching the first wave, while Hermann Tomasgaard of Norway just in front came around mark slow and now I had my opportunity. I kept the pedal down, sitting back of the boat, planing away, and attacking the big breeze and rolling waves down the course, but still aware of what was needed to secure Gold. Recognizing I now had leeward control of Hermann with the trailing fleet behind considerably back, I took control, luffed him to a reach, knocked him off of one the big waves, while I bore back down onto that same wave, leaving him scrambling to get his speed back. Now I was into the clear, planing into the final mark before the gybe onto the short reach to the finish.
The feelings that flowed through my entire body on that final reach for the next 20 minutes was pure ecstasy. From the adrenaline fueled screaming and pounding of the deck crossing the finish line, to the overwhelming rush of emotion breaking down into tears, to the realization of what I had just accomplished and smiling ear to ear, that is something that I will never forget. You can see the sequence of emotions in photos below.
Winning the Princess Sofia Trophy is definitely the highlight of my career, a regatta that is probably one of the top five toughest Olympic class regattas there is, especially when you look at the list of past champions in the Laser class. I went toe to toe against all the top competition in the World full of World Champions and Olympic Medalists. Most of all, to win the event in such dramatic fashion, in that manner, and in those circumstances is what I believe made it so emotional and special for me. Without all the hard work both on and off the water, staying present and having great mindfulness, that performance would not be possible.
Now I am easing back into training in the gym and back on the water, now moved up the Mediterranean coast to Hyeres, France for the French Olympic Week. The fleet is looking to be smaller and not as deep, but still including most of the top guys, racing taking place April 29-May 4th. I will be looking to keep that presence and mindfulness all the way through and continue to work on the little things to improve my overall sailing. As John said, what was really impressive was the performance, not necessarily the result, and that is what we can control every day, particularly in a sport like sailing. Enjoy the process and perform each day.
Thank you all for your continued support for my Olympic dreams. This is a huge breakthrough performance, but there is plenty of work to do. All this event proves is that we are capable of great things and there are no more excuses that all is possible. Now it is time to just continue the hard work and keep improving on the little things.
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