Losing the Fight, Winning the Journey

Published on April 17th, 2016

Three hundred eighty sailors, representing over 60 countries, will compete at the 2016 Olympic Games. But for every sailor competing, there are countless others that did not get selected. Like Erik Bowers. For this quad, Bowers was second best US Laser sailor. Here he provides this report to ILYA Scowlines

ERIK BOWERSThis is the final update following the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. This regatta was the second in the two part Olympic Trials for the Men’s Laser to determine the single representative for the US. After Miami at the end of January, I was 8 places behind Charlie Buckingham. So I would need to beat him by 8 or more in Palma.

In the end, I was unable to beat Charlie. The event got off to a slow start for me on day one while Charlie had a better day. He followed it up on day 2 with a 3-1 whereas I had a 5-6. I managed to out sail him on day 3, first day in the gold fleet, but only by 4 points. After day 3, he was 4th and I was 15th. I went for broke on day 4, but it was not to be. When the smoke cleared, Charlie was the one who made it through the bottleneck.

Olympic sailing is a cruel game for almost everyone who steps into the arena. It is natural selection with a deadline. In the end, only the guy on the top step of the podium wins the game. So I will join the others who didn’t make it through the national selection bottleneck. The others who went unspared include the number 2 ranked Laser sailor in the world from Australia and the 2014 Laser World Champion from Netherlands.

But this is not the only way to view the Olympic sailing crucible. The nature of the game makes the journey all the more rewarding. Everything is earned, little is given. Ultimately, the necessary work gets done the best by those who love the pursuit the most. Clarity and valuable lessons come to those willing to see things as they are.

A regatta result is the outcome from your moment-by-moment skill expression across a number of races. Patterns emerge, strengths are clear as are deficiencies (more later).

2015 was a very tough year for me. I was chasing results and not enjoying the work and processes for the first half of the year. So I took 6 weeks out of the boat last August and September. I read a couple books that changed my approach to things. Took the fresh plunge back into training at the end of September.

In the past 6 months’ time, with the help of present and past coaches, I’ve made more progress than any other period in my sailing. In the high-pressure trials, I had a serious fight with Charlie for the selection. It was not until race 18 (of 20 races between the two events) that things were decided in his favor. Along the way, I did some of my best racing to date.

After taking a hard look at both Miami and Palma, here are the biggest differences between Charlie and Me. We both had similar opportunities, similar starting, and similar speed. But he was able to convert more of the good opportunities and make lemonade out of lemons following mistakes. Across the two events, my finish in each race was always worse than my best position in that respective race. I also tended to make multiple mistakes in a row. These have a devastating compounding effect.

But really, to sum it all up, his game has more RESILIENCE than mine currently does. I basically require more benevolence from the Universe (i.e. favorable things outside my control) to have consistently strong races.

So from here, I actually have a great opportunity. I have the chance to train hard with Charlie up through mid-July. We have both benefited from going head-to-head in both training and racing. So I will help him prepare to, hopefully win, a medal at the Games come August. We have some training scheduled in Long Beach at the end of April followed by the 2016 Worlds in May in Mexico. This will be the lowest pressure regatta in some time!

After the Worlds, I will have the chance to see what goes into the final months, weeks, and days leading up to the Games. This training & racing is going to be a study in RESILIENCE. My enthusiasm for Olympic sailing and the Laser game remains strong. We will see what the future brings!

Thank you all for following and supporting me on this endeavor! I race the boat alone but undertake the effort with enormous collective support.

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