Harken Derm

Nikola Girke: Fourth Time is a Charm

Published on June 19th, 2016

Canadian Nikola Girke is on the way to her fourth Olympic Games this summer. In a new boat. Again. The now 38-year-old began her Olympic career in 2004 sailing the Women’s 470 before switching to the Women’s RS:X for the 2008 and 2012 Games.

But when it appeared windsurfing would be cut from the Olympic program for the 2016 Games, Girke teamed up with Luke Ramsay in the new mixed multihull event. The switch to the Nacra 17 has Girke plotting a course from sailboat to windsurfer to catamaran that no one in Olympic history has come close to matching.

This latest challenge, however, may be the most difficult. Girke and Ramsay were both catamaran rookies when they decided to try the Nacra 17 and it’s been a steep – and painful – learning curve.

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Ramsay and Girke

“I really like speed and adrenaline, and these boats go incredibly fast,” said Girke. “But it’s not how fast it goes that scares me – it’s how fast it stops. I liken it to taming a beast. These boats are beasts, and we never got the manual on how to tame it. We learned the hard way, by trial and error.”

It’s the “error” part that hurts the most, particularly for Girke who always seemed to be on the wrong end of their crashes. Ramsay, the skipper, remained relatively unscathed as they pushed the limits of the catamaran, while Girke suffered multiple serious injuries that kept her sidelined for more than eight months. There were several fingers broken by getting caught in various riggings, and then a nasty fall that got Girke run over by the boat, ripping both her shins for 17 stitches.

“If you’re in the wrong place, or you do it wrong, then the boat is like a bucking bull,” said Girke. “It can go backwards, or basically nosedive and chuck you forward – catapults you. Neither of those are very pleasant experiences because there are a lot of things to hit. They’ve called it a cheese grater sometimes because you don’t know what you’re going to hit on the way down.”

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An example of what not to do.

Girke and Ramsay have mostly figured out how to keep Girke riding in one piece and have posted solid results in the lead-up to Rio, most recently finishing 6th at the Sailing World Cup Wenymouth & Portland 2016.

“For Rio I think that we have a definite medal chance,” she said. “We aren’t one of the favourites, but Rio is not a favourites venue. Anything can happen in that venue. It’s really crazy wind and current. … We are quite a consistent team in every wind condition, and what it’s going to take to win is consistency. We have that. We’re excited.”

Girke’s top finish in her three previous appearances was a 10th-place showing in London.

“It would be a dream come true,” she said. “It would be so satisfying and rewarding for all the hard work and effort that we’ve put in, for all of our supporters that have stood behind us for so many years. It would mean so much for Canada, and for sailing as a sport in Canada.”

Excerpt from North Shore News.

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