A peak inside a professional sailor’s mind during an important race. The author, Jonathan Lobert, is an olympic medalist, and both European Champion and Silver medalist in World Championships in 2017.
I write here to share my feelings during the Medal Race of the Finn Gold Cup, which was held in Balaton, Hungary in September 2017.
Let’s go briefly back to the morning of the last day of the regatta, i.e. the morning of the Medal Race. During the regatta, we have sailed seven starts out of the programmed ten starts. I am now third, with the same number of points as the English who is second in overall results, and with a seven point difference to the Swedish who is leading.
On the emotional side, we are at the seventh day of the regatta… for your nerves, it’s long. We haven’t had wind in two days. We have spent our time waiting for wind at land and at sea, hoping to be able to sail the last three starts marked in the initial program. In vain…
When I arrive to the club in the morning of the Medal Race, there is no wind, and the forecast is not too optimistic for the rest of the day. I don’t think too much about it, and start to prepare the boat as if we are going to start the Medal Race in time. This allows me to be ready in time and to examine the course. I am tense and relaxed at the same time. On one side, I am afraid that we won’t be able to sail the Medal Race due to lack of wind, but on the other side, I am really excited of the fact that I might become world champion.
The wind returns, and the committee decides to send us out to start the Medal Race (for the ten best boats in overall results). I am a bit stressed when heading to the course area. I take time to master my breathing, aiming to breathe regularly and calmly. I think of nothing. I let my body take in all the stimuli, like the wind on my face, how the boat feels under me, all the sensations in my hands when I steer the boat, the pressure in my ears and in the sail. I try to be one with my environment. I sail without thinking too much, almost automatically, using as little energy as possible. I am more and more relaxed, and trust my senses and my feeling to decide the strategy for starting and the beginning of the course. I see the wind is changing in speed and direction, but still I have the impression that there is more pressure on the right side of the track.
The committee launches the start procedures, the start is in five minutes!
The wind is very light, about five knots. I choose to start from the windward of the fleet, to be able to take advantage of the right side of the track. During the starting procedure, there are no feelings, I am fully concentrated in action and in getting a good start. I manage to start from the committee boat, the race is on!
I manage to start from the committee boat, the race is on!
I breathe a while, and concentrate on boat speed. Quite soon, my position weakens and I decide to take this shift and head to the right side. First I am quite happy with this choice, as I have the impression that there is an advantage in wind coming ahead. However, I made a mistake as the wind fills in from the other side of the course, all the boats to my left gain from this, and I am the last one to round the first mark.
In this moment I am out of the podium. I don’t think at all of the results, and I am completely focused on the rest of the race. I am extremely concentrated to seize every possibility to climb positions. I know that the mistake to avoid in this kind of situation is to take too big risks. I remain very alert in positioning myself in regard to others, to be the first one able to exploit changes in wind.
I remain very alert in positioning myself in regard to others, to be the first one able to exploit changes in wind.
It’s a winning tactic. At the end of the first downwind I have gained positions quite well, and I round the leeward mark seventh. I am completely focused in action, and don’t think about scores. I stick to the the plan and attitude I have chosen, take advantage of every opportunity without exaggerating. It’s quite difficult to sail in the middle of the fleet as there is often other competitors disturbing the wind. I try to remain calm, and take time to analyze the situation.
Max Salminen, the eventual winner
At this point of the race, it’s hard to accept that I am in trouble, and to remain calm to be able to make objective decisions. At the last rounding mark, I am not sure I am able to make it to the podium, but there is still the last downwind to go. I take a moment to find a stable rhythm in my breathing, so that I can get 100% out of my tactical and technical skills. I am really concentrated on what happens around me, so that I can exploit even the smallest changes in the wind. I put a lot of focus on what I sense, be it what I feel in my hands, my legs or my bum, to be able to steer the boat in the best possible way.
I position myself to the side of the fleet, opposite of the Swedish and just ahead of the English. The wind is very soft, but little by little I gain places. I begin to take advantage of the fleet beside me. I am now completely concentrated on boat speed. I cross the finishing line fifth.
I already know that I am at least second, because the English is behind me. The Dutch, who was fourth before the Medal Race, wins this start, but this is not enough for him to beat me in overall results. I count the boats between myself and the Swede… One, two… It’s really tight between the boats, but I think there are only two boats separating us, while to win I would have needed three. The committee confirms the final results, there’s only two boats between us.
So I finish second in the final overall results… With the tiniest possible difference to the Swede. I am divided between satisfaction and disappointment.
The thing I love about this sport is the mixture of strong emotions. Essentially, it is for this kind of moments, at the same time enjoyable and unpleasant, that I continue to sail with so much pleasure.
Thank you for your attention.
Gold Max Salminen (right), silver Jon Lobert (middle), bronze Nicholas Heiner (left).
This text is translated with the permission of Jonathan Lobert. Original blog text (in french) can be found by clicking the link below.
Jonathan’s blog: http://jonathanlobert.com/index.php/2017/09/20/championnat-du-monde-la-medal-race-vue-de-linterieur/
Timelapse-video from Finn Gold Cup Medal Race, duration 2:07 min. Filming and editing Miklos Csermendy.