Lee Parkhill: Eyes on the Prize
Published on August 4th, 2016
After just missing out on the 2012 London Olympics, it took Lee Parkhill a year to decide to try again for Rio.
The Oakville sailor had been an underdog for 2012 in the Men’s Laser, but whe he finished a surprising fifth at a World Cup race in Melbourne, it raised hopes right before the pair of events that would determine Canada’s lone London entry in the discipline.
“I was excited to do the trials. I really thought I had a chance to go to those Olympics,” Parkhill noted, but in the end he finished third in those trials, and the weight of the disappointment was felt by his family.
“You realize going into it there is only one representative from each country that qualifies . . . but I felt bad for him. I felt really bad for him,” said his father, Allan. “It was heartbreaking, it really was.”
Now 27 and a new dad — Parkhill and wife Alex welcomed daughter Emma in April — he thought long and hard before deciding to try again. With more experience under his belt, he was considered the favourite to qualify this time. A personal-best fourth-place finish at a June World Cup event in Weymouth, England — results over a 12-month span determine the selection — sealed it.
“For a second it was kind of a relief, just knowing I was going,” he said. “I celebrated for a little, but at the same time it happened so close to the Olympics it was kind of just a stepping stone.”
Back home in Oakville, his focus immediately turned to preparation for Rio. It was a lot to take in: “It’s still kind of surreal that I’ve qualified for the Olympics.”
Water quality is a big concern for Rio-bound athletes, but Parkhill said no one he knew got sick at any Rio training camps. As for other issues including the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has led many athletes to skip the Games, Parkhill put them into perspective.
“For me, this Olympics is the pinnacle of my career,” he said. “That’s been the end goal all the time. Once you qualify and you know you have the privilege to represent Canada, it starts to quickly outweigh all those negatives. You just try and take them off your mind, not think about them and hope that authorities will do their part and take care of it and keep you safe.”
The light-wind conditions in Rio suit his sailing style. Parkhill excels at the strategic side rather than the brute strength required in windier situations. He finished second and third in Rio trial runs, competing against many of the 46 boats that will make up the largest sailing fleet at this year’s Games.
“I’m crossing my fingers that we get those conditions again,” he said. “If the week goes well, especially with what I did at the last training camp, there’s no reason that I can’t be standing on top of the podium and be getting (Canada’s) first gold medal for sailing.”
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