Team USA: Finding the silver lining
Published on August 3rd, 2021
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics was always going to be a search for the US Team to find the silver lining. Among the ten events, there were no medal favorites and one longshot. The six strong events from Rio 2016 now had either aging veterans or new campaigners. It was a building year… again.
Making the Medal Race in just three events, the USA will need continuity and greater depth to improve for Paris 2024, but two bright spots for the USA did emerge through the Games of the XXXII Olympiad:
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X:
Pedro Pascual (Miami, FL) had won the 2015 RS:ONE European Championship before making gold fleet at the 2016 RS:X Worlds enroute to the Rio 2016 Olympics where he finished in 28th place.
Approaching his second Olympics, Pascual had little threat within the USA other than the desire to do better. He did, finishing sixth in his first career Olympic medal race, and ending Tokyo 2020 in ninth overall. His top-10 finish is the best result by an American board sailor at the Olympic Games since medal-winning performances in 1988 and 1992 by Mike Gebhardt.
“I’m really happy about my performance,” said Pascual. “In Rio, I was just 20 years old. I was the youngest of the whole RS:X fleet. In that situation, you feel small compared to the legends that you’re sailing against. So now I know I’m at the same level as they are.
“I was able to manage the pressure this week and everything that comes along with the Olympic Games. It’s just a different event than anything else. I was able to find my find my speed and build my confidence. Of course, it can always be better. Right now I’m seeing my mistakes and I could have definitely been higher up there. But overall, I’m happy with my performance, happy with the way I sailed and it was a great experience.”
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17:
The US field had some depth and experience but when crews reshuffled for the Tokyo 2020 quad, it opened the door for newcomers Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, CA) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, FL) to emerge for their first Olympics. But after World Championship finishes of 14th (2019) and 17th (2020), they had yet to master the international standard.
However, after just starting their campaign three years ago, they posted an excellent showing in their Olympic Medal Race to cap a rapid ascent through the Nacra 17 ranks, finishing third in the finale to conclude in ninth overall at Tokyo 2020.
“I think our strength of the week was our ability to rally and reset after having a bad race or errors,” said Weis. “Having that in our back pocket, and being able to reset and really move forward and focus on one race at a time really helped us out and allowed us to compete in each moment.”
Gibbs was quick to mention that a key part of their ability to become competitive in the international fleet was a strong group of teams back home in the U.S. “We had amazing training partners like Bora Gulari, Louisa Chafee, Helena Scutt, Sarah Newberry, David Liebenberg, Ravi Parent, and Caroline Atwood. Making the Medal Race here is an accomplishment, and to be able to say that they’ve really helped us out I think is really special. They should feel connected to this.”
Weis also expressed hope that seeing the visually dynamic foiling multihulls on NBC back home would boost the sport in the U.S. “I hope the coverage on TV inspires more young women to get involved and get into the class because it’s mixed gender,” said Weis, who in addition to her multihull credentials was the 2016 Women’s Singlehanded National Champion in the Laser Radial.
“I think sometimes girls shy away from [mixed gender sailing]. But I think the mixed gender aspect creates a really fun and challenging dynamic. So hopefully that inspires more females to get involved.”
Race schedule is staggered for the ten sailing events from July 25 to August 4.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
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
Source: Scuttlebutt, US Sailing