SWC Miami 2016 – Olympic Trials Part 1

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As many of you may be aware, last week was a very tough week for me in many aspects, physically, mentally, and particularly emotionally. It has taken me a week or so to collect my thoughts, reactions, and feelings going forward. Now I have relatively clear mind and can report to you what exactly transpired and the steps going forward.

Going into SWC Miami, I felt confident that I had done all the preparation I could. I committed to an intense fitness program, spent many months on the road traveling to all the necessary training camps and top events around the world, developed my equipment, learned how to psychologically understand myself towards peak performance, surrounded myself with a strong support system, raised capital, organized a budget and logistical infrastructure that enables the program to run smoothly, all so I can perform on the water to the best of my abilities. I think I have done all of that to my best efforts. I knew I needed my best performance in Miami to give myself a chance to win the Olympic Trials. Even with that top performance, that may not be enough. Never the less, I was going to give it my all, and I did.

As I said, I felt good going into the week as I noted in my pre-event report, physically, mentally, emotionally, and so on, ready for day one of racing. However, I started off the event on the back foot, even before the first start. Two minutes before first start in a light 5 knot Northerly wind, I was flagged for sculling, a costly penalty, not ideal. Scrambled to get out of the chaos of the starting line, to find space to do my penalty turns, and eventually restart behind the fleet. I scratched back to be 4th at top windward mark, only to be caught out by an unsuspecting massive left shift on the second beat to drop to 25th. After a wind delay, race two was underway and was caught out not being able to cross on the first shift, but salvaged to round mid fleet. I came into the bottom mark gaining some boats back, everyone jostling for position, and gybed to round outside a couple boats. Beeeeeep, whistled a penalty for coming out of gybe too fast. I had received my second flag, automatically disqualified from the race and forced to withdraw.

Heading into day two, a light 5-8 knot south east wind, I tried to keep my mind focused on executing the next task at hand, find my speed, read the wind, and execute the next maneuver. Being very tentative on starting line, knowing I could not afford another penalty, had a tough start. I was able to reposition and began heading to the right side, but quickly recognized the left was coming in strong and right would not come back. I crossed behind many sterns, and gained them back, salvaging a top mark rounding of 15th. I picked my way through the fleet, and scratched back to an 8th place finish. Happy with that and felt back on track. Race two of the day, again very tentative on starting line with overhanging penalties, and struggled to gain a strong position. I tried to maneuver my way back into position. Beeeeeeeep, whistled for a third flag. Gone from race three, done for the day. Shocker.

Now I really had my back against the wall. I understood my Olympic trials was a long, two event series, and like any trials, very far from over. But I also knew what sort of results my competition was likely to put up. I had a strong sense that if I didn’t get myself back into gold fleet on final day of qualifying, my event, and 2016 dreams were all but over. I had to come out sailing free with nothing to lose and all to gain. We had another tricky, light to medium wind of 6-10 knots from the south. Both races actually played out very similarly. Each race had good starts, looked to be rounding in the top 5, and the final shift went against me to round in 15th or so. On the first run, I put on my wheels, sailed “free”, and rounded the bottom marks back in the top 8. Race one however, I made the costly, and eventually, fatal mistake of not consolidating when I could. I searched for more opportunities to gain; instead I lost, and dropped back to finish 16th instead of 8th. Race two of the day I made sure to consolidate and fought for every inch to finish 5th. All in all, it was not enough as I finished just 2 places from scratching my way back to gold fleet. Suddenly, in just three days, I had let my opportunity slip away.

I did finish off the regatta well, with a 1st and a 14th in the two races we had in silver fleet, and happy with how I raced on that final day. I finished the event and part one of the Olympic trials in 51st.

As you can imagine, it is hard for me to write up this report. It hurts me to relive these tough moments last week, and report to you, my supporters and fans, on how I failed to perform. I am still trying to come down from the adrenaline of last week, emotionally exhausted. It has been hard to sleep at night, and stay awake and alert during the day. I even had to stop at a rest stop last week while driving and take a 45-minute nap in the car. However it is only fair to share with you my feelings and intentions going forward.

It is hard to describe in a few words as you can imagine, but the words that come up are obviously disappointed, sad, hurt, shocked, and also embarrassment. None of these words are for losing the trials because someone beat me, but mostly because I beat myself. I beat myself. Hard words to swallow.

I have pondered these thoughts over the last week and consulted with my coaches, team psychologist, US Sailing Team management, teammates, and others. The theme that I seem to be coming back to a lot is actually still the initial thought on why I might lose the trials. I need more time, and more specifically, I need more experience. However, my thought it would be because I need more time and experience in evolving the boat speed, fitness, tactics, and strategy. Although this may be true, I need more time and experience in challenging moments like this to train myself in the space between the ears. That is where I really need to reassess and attack my game.

I have always seen myself as someone who thrives under pressure, rises to the top in key moments. I’ve experienced this in all levels of my sailing from junior sailing, high school, college, and even the Olympic sailing at the recent World Championships. However, I have come to realize that those strong performances, and my perceived mental strength and coolness under pressure, were masked by my talent and skill compared to my competition in certain arenas of sailing and sailing conditions. There are many more deep levels to this, but I will leave those details between my coaches and myself. Either way, I am beginning to understand in the last week my subconscious and conscious tendencies and habits, and how those transpire to my behavior and on the water execution. Unfortunately, those tendencies came out last week. But on the flip side, as a mentor of mine said, I am very lucky to be making this step early in my campaign and in my life, and I will grow immensely from this. As supporters, it is important for you to know that I am taking every step possible to evolve my game between the ears and become the best at it.

As for the future, that fire that burns inside me to reach the top has never burned hotter. I still see myself as a capable of being successful and at the top of this class. Obviously this past week was a big blow. However, that embarrassment I initially felt, is now transforming into an understanding that these setbacks and lessons are part of the process. That embarrassment has added that “fuel to the fire”. And to be honest, as I was sailing in after falling short of gold fleet, fighting back the emotions, one phrase kept popping into my head.

“There is no f****n way I am ending my Olympic career like this”

The dream will live on. I will give it my all to finish off the Olympic trials to the best of my abilities. The program goes on past that with the Europeans in Spain later this month, Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma de Mallorca, World cup in Hyeres, France, the World Championships in Mexico, and training camps in Rio this summer prior to the games. I continue that work tomorrow as I start training here in Dominican Republic preparing for Europe.

Thank you so much for your continued support through this crazy journey of ups and downs. Onto Tokyo 2020.

Chris

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