Olympic training: facing the demons

Published on June 9th, 2022

Olympic 49erFX sailors face some of the toughest racing conditions, and these do indeed make them stronger. US Sailing Team 49erFX athletes Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea conquered their Palma demons with a strong performance at this year’s stormy Trofeo Princesa Sofía Olympic classes regatta in Mallorca.

It’s blowing 25 knots off the land from the northeast. Thick, dark clouds block the sun and bring the cold to the Trofeo Princesa Sofía regatta in Spain, the first European event of our 2022 Olympic calendar. My cheeks and hands are freezing, and my 4/3 wetsuit is soaked. I haven’t been in a wetsuit this thick in years, so moving around the boat is difficult.

The wind is crazy puffy and shifty, and it feels like survival conditions at times. I have some nervous and excited butterflies in my stomach knowing that the racing is going to be intense. I have no idea what to expect from ourselves or the fleet. Welcome to Palma, I think to myself. Damn, it’s cold out here.

My teammate, Maggie Shea, and I call these survival days “meerkat racing,” where I need to be “head out of the boat” upwind and downwind to see what crazy puffs and shifts are coming our way. The No. 1 priority is keeping the rig in the air. It’s just us against the boat, but we both love these crazy days.

For the first race, we decide we like the left side of the racecourse and the pin is favored. We set up for a pin start, and although there is chaos around us, we focus on our boat control and distance to the line. We are about to start our first race of the Paris 2024 campaign in our favorite conditions, windy offshore, just like the Midwestern lakes we both grew up on.

We have a great start, and after one minute of being locked into speed, I look over my shoulder and see we’re punched out on the fleet. “Great start, great mode,” I tell Maggie. “If we get headed with pressure, let’s tack. We can tack and clear the fleet no problem.”

I know we’ve both looked over our shoulders and seen that once we complete our tack onto port we will be winning the race. These are the moments that live in my mind forever.

We win the race by a large margin, only to learn we were OCS, by inches. We flush that race and frustration knowing we are fast, have good boathandling and love these conditions. We continue on to race two and round the weather mark in the top three, but while setting the spinnaker, we were forced into a capsize by another team, causing us to finish 12th. That’s a lot of points in the first two qualifying races of a 12-race series, but our goal is not the results, so I reset my mind for race three, which we go out and win. – Full story

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