Tokyo 2020: 131 days to the Olympics

Published on March 14th, 2021

The USA Women’s Skiff team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea, has had more than COVID-19 to manage in their path to the 49erFX podium. Here’s an update:

We are currently in Lanzarote, which is a small island in the Canary Islands of Spain. The conditions are epic here, and we’ve been grinding hard for the past six weeks in big swell and strong winds.

We left Miami in January, and along with coach Giulia Conti, we were eager to turn the page on a tough chapter of our campaign. When we wiped out in Cascais, Portugal in October, Maggie did some minor damage to her knee, and it has taken about two months of physical therapy to get back on the water.

We were lucky to have the help of the US Sailing Team’s stellar PET group in Miami, which is headed by Dr. Chris Ellis of Force Physical Therapy, Dr. Carolyn Kienstra, Dr. Mikah Kust, and Dr. Beth Cook. And when the medical team gave us the green light to get back on the water, we have been going full throttle since then!

Maggie’s knee continues to progress and we have managed to avoid any major setbacks. Our boat-handling came back quicker than we thought it would, and we have a renewed sense of gratitude for our health and strength.

As we start training again with other teams on the water, we find it important to acknowledge that every team is at different points in their Olympic preparation. We are very focused on our own process and our commitment to making progress every day… this is the final stretch to the Olympic Games.

When we arrived in Lanzarote at the end of January, it was after a week of COVID-19 border regulation travel complications. We are so grateful for the opportunity to be here training with the top teams in the fleet and in unique conditions similar to Japan.

We originally planned on only one month of training in this venue. However, after we arrived the Princess Sofia Trophy, which was scheduled to be sailed in Palma de Mallorca this April, was effectively canceled. Shortly after that development, the Canary Islands Sailing Federation volunteered to host a regatta here on March 21-26.

The COVID situation is safely controlled here and the sailing conditions are solid. This International Regatta will serve as the qualifier for one of the final berths at the Olympics – the European continent spot. Several competitive teams are still vying for this berth, so the regatta should bring top-notch competition.

With this exciting development, we set up camp for two months over here and focused on refreshing our big-wave sailing skills for the Lanzarote International Regatta. Given that we spent most of 2019 training in flat water venues for the trials, we are particularly keen to work on the swell sailing on the ocean.

As a team, we have gained a lot of weight and are seeing it pay off in these conditions, both in boat speed and strong maneuvers. The windy offshore days here also force us to keep our high tempo boat-handling and snap decision-making sharp.

Besides working full time with our Argentinian training partners, we have raced against a 20-boat fleet several times over the last six weeks. While it has mainly been “scrimmage style” racing, we are so grateful for the opportunity to be around lots of boats and to work on specific racing skills.

It has been over seven months since we last raced a big event, which was Kiel Week in Germany. There have definitely been some “oh duh” moments of things we are remembering after making mistakes. And there have been a lot of “a-ha!” moments of things we are learning and developing in this environment.

We have been focused on our starting skills including down-speed boat handling, along with time and distance. Our coach, Giulia Conti, has been working hard to incorporate technology, like our Tru Sail telemetry instruments, onboard audio recorders, and GoPro footage, to help us develop these skills.

There are about 50 boats registered for the Lanzarote International Regatta which is a huge turnout. We don’t know how many events we will have (if any) before the Olympic Games so we are excited to take advantage of this opportunity.

It is very hard to plan things right now, but we have worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be flexible, and we are grateful that we have the resources to do so. We obtained European Visas and spread our equipment in strategic places.

Looking ahead, we return home to Miami on March 29 and our plan is to focus on boat handling maneuvers in April. Miami can deliver a range of conditions between Biscayne Bay and the ocean, so we will seek out conditions based on the forecast.

We are planning for the Argentinians to join us for two weeks of training in May. This is when we will finalize our Olympic equipment. Then our plan A is to head to Japan in mid-May until the end of June for training and racing in the Enoshima World Cup.

This is our plan A, but we understand a lot is likely to change between now and the Games. We know that we will make the most of whatever is thrown at us and put 100% of our efforts into becoming the best athletes we can be for the Olympic Games this summer.

Team information:

Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

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


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