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2020 Olympics: Detours To Tokyo

Published on September 15th, 2020

For Sailing World, Kimball Livingston reports how American 49erFX sailors Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea negotiate the pandemic-induced changes of their Olympic campaign.

What if you got to the top of the mountain, and it wasn’t there?

John Bertrand lived that nightmare 40 years ago, when the United States boycotted the Olympic Games. A 25-year-old world champion in Lasers and Finns, Bertrand was as close as a sailor can ever be to a sure bet for an Olympic medal—but. All these years later, Bertrand has helped coach Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea to a place on the 2020 Olympic team. They were supposed to represent in the 49erFX this past summer in Tokyo—but. The stories are the same—but.

They’re not the same. Bertrand’s 1980 chances went from bright to lights out. Roble and Shea are still training for what they hope will be the Games of 2021, and they’re hanging on to the good-news side of a good-news/bad-news equation. When I toss to Roble the “what if” question about 2021—What if it doesn’t happen?—she shoots right back: “We can’t think about that. We have to focus on things we can control. We have to get up every morning and go sailing.”

Shea reflected, “It was an emotional ordeal when we thought 2020 might be ­canceled instead of postponed, and we were so grateful when US Sailing declared that our qualification would hold.”

When I asked Bertrand what it was like, absorbing the blow of the 1980 boycott, he cited “a lot of amnesia around that.”

And I probably have ­readers who are hazy as to why the United States would boycott 1980. The short course is that Moscow had the Games, and the boycott was intended to punish the Soviets for ­invading Afghanistan. (Fortunately, I write for a sailing magazine, so I don’t have to dig into the ironies that come to mind, speaking of foreign adventures in Afghanistan past and present.)

As Bertrand remembers his moment: “News of the boycott came down halfway through the Finn Gold Cup, in New Zealand, and I had to process confusion. I had to process heartbreak. I had to sail out the Gold Cup in a state of anger that athletes were being used as political pawns. But what could I control? It was important to me to win the US Trials, so I kept training hard and didn’t let up. I needed a punctuation mark after so much effort, so much training, such a long pursuit of a vision. But that wasn’t true for everyone. Full report.

Tokyo Olympic Sailing Program – USA Team
Charlie Buckingham – Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Paige Railey – Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
Stu McNay/David Hughes – Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Not Final – Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Nevin Snow/Dane Wilson – Men’s Skiff – 49er*
Stephanie Roble/Maggie Shea – Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Luke Muller – Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Pedro Pascual – Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Farrah Hall – Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Riley Gibbs/Anna Weis – Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
* USA has not yet earned entry but is first on reserve list if a qualified country does not accept their slot for Tokyo 2020.

Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021


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