Nick Dempsey has just come away with a medal from the first big RS:X event since the Olympic Games, now on his blog he shares the experience and his thoughts on the new racing format.
It’s always good to come away from an event with a medal. It’s even better when you’ve gone in to that event more unprepared than you’ve ever been in your life!
The ISAF World Cup Miami was a great loosener for me having not really done any sailing since the Olympics. After I made the call to do another Olympic campaign for Rio I’d planned to get back on to the board in December. But when it came to it I just didn’t feel ready.
Instead of feeling bad about what I should or shouldn’t be doing I made the decision to draw a line under 2012 and start afresh in January. Miami was the deadline I set for myself where I had to be back on the board.
I arrived in Miami for five days training before the regatta, but in the first race my whole body was like ‘Oh my god I can’t do this!’ I’d probably been out on my board three times since the Games, none of which were planing conditions, so to be racing and planing again, well I just got spat straight out the back. The board felt heavy, I felt slow and it hurt.
At this stage I was thinking I would be pleased to just get through the event in one piece! But when you’re in that sort of environment your competitive instinct always takes over and within half an hour I was fine again. Rusty but fine.
I’m a racer and it’s my nature to want to win every event I enter. You can go underprepared but when you’re actually there you can still do everything properly and the way you would do it as if it was any other Grade One event. There’s no point doing an event otherwise.
The racing format was certainly one of the most talked about parts of the week, and I’ve already made it clear I wasn’t a fan.
We found out when the Sailing Instructions were issued a couple of days’ before racing how it was going to work. You have to be open-minded to these things and when you know that the racing formats are being experimented with you can only form a valid opinion, and give what you hope will be valuable, credible feedback, if you’ve actually tried it yourself.
But it was obvious right from the outset that this particular format would be leaving too much to chance. You could qualify last from each of the fleet series, quarter-finals and semi-finals and still walk away with the gold medal if you won the final six-board race.
How can you spend four years of your life training for what could come down to one 15 minute blast in Rio where the winner takes all, regardless of how they have sailed in the rest of the event?
A sailing regatta is supposed to reward consistency over the course of a series. Ours is an environmental sport where conditions can fluctuate from day to day. But you always know that over the course of a series invariably things will level themselves out, and the people who have been consistent across the full range of conditions – ie the best sailors that week – will win the medals. It’s the way it should be, not a winner-takes-all final race showdown.
My preference would be to go back to what we had in Athens, with no medal race at all. It was simple then; the person with the least points wins. It’s like golf, everyone understood it. Now it feels like they’re just trying to make the sport something that it’s not, and in doing so, the sport gets further away from athletic achievement and consistent performance.
The overriding feeling in the boat park was this format just isn’t fair competition. It is always nice to beat Dorian (van Rijsselberghe) though!
For the Worlds in Buzios, Brazil next month we go back to the standard qualifying, gold fleet, medal race format we’re used to, which I’m grateful for.
The plan was to fly out to Brazil at the weekend but we turned up at the airport on Saturday and found KLM were not too happy about all the luggage we were taking so were delayed and finally arrived today. It was a slightly epic and rather long journey – battling against the carnival traffic to Buzios but we arrived to 20 knots and sunshine and it is amazing as ever.
I’m looking forward to getting out there and reuniting with my Olympic training group, including Ivan Pastor, who won in Miami, and my Skandia Team GBR teammate, Tom Squires, to get him up to speed as a training partner.
It’s going to be three hard weeks’ training but it’s what I need. The camp will be all about sailing; probably an hour-and-a-half every morning, lunch, then two hours every afternoon. Fitness will come, but first and foremost I need to spend real time on the board again.
Buzios is beautiful but it’s not like the US or UK at the moment, where there are state-of-the-art fitness suites in the hotels and apartment complexes. In Buzios you could do some mountain biking but with the limited amount of time in the venue I have that can all wait until I get home. I have to take advantage of being able to spend quality time on the water.
It will be difficult to win the Worlds, but not impossible. It’s likely to be very windy and we aren’t expecting a range of conditions, but you always find something extra at a Worlds.
Between now and the Worlds, which start on February 28, I’ll be enjoying getting my kit together again and just being out on my board really starting to look ahead at what the next three-and-a-half years can bring.
Check out more from Nick here and head to the next page for his previous blog post.