Now that the dust has settled on my Olympic adventure, I am able to reflect on the last 6 months, focusing on the Olympic Games themselves. What a rollercoaster of a trip this has been! It’s funny because all my friends tend to think that I live the best life: traveling, eating well and competing, but what you don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes. There were definitely highs and lows that both Charlie and I experienced along the way and dealing with them was part of the journey, which in turns builds character. Certain events such as being pulled over every time we traveled to a new country and sometimes paying fines, having to live in extremely tight quarters for extended periods, feet hanging 4 inches off the European beds, language barriers, unforeseen travel expenses and rarely getting to enjoy much of what the country had to offer due to our strict training schedules made the journey more of a job rather than an adventure sometimes. I actually knew this was going to be the case when I started campaigning again but I was really looking forward to what laid ahead and it is indeed my job to train and race as hard as I can. This blog is going to be a bit long, so I will divide it into a few sections.
6 months Until the Games
The Spring events started off in Palma Mallorca – Trofeo Princesa Sofia – where I did not have a good regatta, missing out on Gold Fleet by 1 place. Then in Germany for the Laser World Championship, I missed out on Gold Fleet again by 1 place but I finished strongly in the Silver Fleet in 3rd place. Off to the Nederlands for the Delta Lloyd regatta I missed the Medal Race by 1 place, only to come up short again in Weymouth England in June at the Skandia Sail for Gold by 2 places – I did win the Silver Fleet at that event. This sequence of events was tough to swallow because it seemed like I wasn’t making any progress. I’m not one to make excuses but after continued performances like this, I decided it was my Laser. It had been leaking for a while and I had it fixed numerous times. Unfortunately the boat still decided to leak and it was definitely affecting my results. Learned a lesson there…. At this level, if you’re not finishing well after doing the right thing, you have to evaluate not only yourself but also your equipment – in this case my laser – to see if something is wrong. My boat leaked…. a lot. Now, although it is after the fact, I can happily say that I will never sail that boat again.
Satellite Venue in Weymouth
As you all probably know, the sailing events for the Olympic Games were held 4 hours south west of London near the resort town of Weymouth. Our Olympic Village and venue was actually on the Isle of Portland which forms the southernmost point of the county of Dorset and connects to the mainland and Weymouth via a causeway.
Portland in the foreground – Weymouth in the backroung.
Unfortunately we weren’t with all the other athletes back at the main Olympic Village in London, but that time would soon come. Arriving in the Village it was time to trade in all our practice kit, enter our housing and start sailing the Olympic boat. Our small Village reminded me of college life, just on a much smaller scale. The 10 classes in Sailing had a total of 380 athletes. The Village also housed the coaches, team leaders and other necessary people and personnel. The buildings were apartment style accommodations, 2 in a bedroom, with shared bathrooms. Most teams got to all live together because of the team’s size, but since ours was small, we had to share with Tunisia. The Village was prefect! It had one main dining hall, a games room, a medical center, a communications center and they even did our laundry! Additionally it was a short walking distance to the sailing venue.
Country Flags at the Olympic Village in Portland
Down at the sailing venue, not much had changed. The facility had been pretty spot on since I first visited in 2006 for the ISAF Youth World Championship. There was more than enough room for all the competing boats, coach boats, media boats, officials boats and extras. The only thing that was different at the venue, was the intensity. I know everyone says “oh you shouldn’t treat the Olympics different than any other regatta,” but that’s a whole lot easier said than done. I mean come on… it’s the OLYMPICS.. what people have been training for since 2008. Everything is different !!! You’re finally on the same playing field as the big names. Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps….well, as far as being an Olympian. Security was at a high and you could not think of going anywhere without your credentials (badges), which were more important than a passport during those 2 weeks. The media was everywhere, trying to get the perfect pictures and interview the leaders. Every team was dressed to the teeth in their Olympic gear, which was quite a sight to see. Some teams had some really cool designs and enough gear to wear something different every day, while others had rather interesting designs and not much gear. Regardless we were there to sail and not model but it was fun to notice how some teams put in huge efforts and money in their uniforms.
Walking into the Stadium during the Opening Ceremony
The Opening Ceremony was up for debate with many athletes this time around. Due to the fact that we were 5 hours bus ride both ways to London, it made some athletes a little uncertain about attending. The regatta was to start 2 days after the ceremony, but I think that in order to get the full feeling for the Games, you couldn’t miss out on the Opening Ceremony. I have been to opening ceremonies for the Caribbean and Central American Games (CAC) and numerous World Championships, but the Olympics was something extraordinary. To be honest it’s really hard to describe in words the emotions and feelings that were running through my body when we walked through the tunnel and emerged into a stadium with 75,000 screaming spectators. Definitely made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. This explosion of sounds and lights made you feel important, patriotic and a number of different sensations raced through your body during the experience. I was more in shock than anything. The stadium was massive and every eye in the crowd was looking at that tunnel to see what country was next to walk through.
I think that if you were to start your races an hour after the ceremony, the intensity would be unbelievable. The sounds of the crowd penetrated your body, shook it, and the light displays illuminating the arena were something to marvel at. It was a long ceremony to tell you the truth, but the pride that we felt, being able to represent our country no matter how large, or in our case, how small, was an opportunity of a lifetime. I felt honored to represent the Virgin Islands, and to follow in my family’s footsteps…
US Virgin Islands at the Opening Ceremony
Two days after the Opening Ceremony was the start of our regatta. I don’t believe that I was feeling nervous, but more relieved. The whole Olympic build-up can be quite daunting and I was ready to get out there and race. I had been in Europe for 4 months at this point and I felt that I was as ready as I could possibly be with the time that I had. The event was forecasted to have good breeze and believe it or not, the sun was predicted to shine. There were 4 different courses we were to sail on and leading up to the event, we had been able to practice on each one of them and familiarize ourselves with the racing area.
On day one – my friend and my training partner who had now become my coach for the Games – Charlie Buckingham and I got into a routine of getting out to the race course 40 minutes before the start to do our homework. He would check the wind angle and current on the different sides of the course, while I warmed up the engine. 20 minutes seemed to be the trick switching between hard hiking, cruising, and stretching the IT band. After our homework was completed, we would make a game plan on what side would pay, both upwind and downwind, based off the information he had recorded. After that, it would be up to me to execute the plan. Charlie was an unbelievable help to have out on the water and I believe we both learned a lot. Charlie has had coaching throughout the entire Spring and he was able to use what he learned from his coach and pass it down to me, in his own style, during the event. Charlie is also a very good Laser sailor and from that perspective, he understands what it takes better than most. Although we both think that I could have done better, just having him out on the water for encouragement and motivation made a huge difference. Yeah sometimes he would remind me of the little things, but then again sometimes I was forgetting the little things that just make sailboat racing that much easier. I learned a lot from him about laying out the course and having 2 minds dissecting a course is obviously twice as helpful.
I won’t break down every race, but for the most part, the plans that Charlie and I worked out pre-race, were spot on. I on the other hand couldn’t execute them properly, due to mediocre starts. I’m not sure what it was, but I couldn’t get off the line the entire event except in a couple of races. Maybe I was nervous of getting an OCS, or mixing it in with the faster guys and getting shot out the back. Either way I would start off a race in a tough position and then have to battle my way back to the high teens, low 20′s.
It was a little disappointing, because if I was able to battle back to these positions with bad starts, I wonder how I would have done with good starts. The most amazing thing that I noticed and many coaches noticed as well, was how hard every sailor was going. During normal events, when the breeze is up, people tend to find a cruise mode during the hour long race working at maybe 90-95% to save energy. But here, when the gun fired for the first race, it was shoulders down the whole time and everyone was giving 110% around the entire track. The second you came in off the rail for a breather, you would immediately lose distance. If you took your focus somewhere else or made a mistake, boats would go by. There were many times when I was in the low teens and sometimes just breaking into the top 10, when I’d miss the last little shift and find myself in the high teens again. If you took a look at the results for each race, the differences between a 25th and a 15th or better were often so little in matters of seconds, emphasizing how close the racing was.
Mistakes were made during the event, but I also had some moments of brilliance that made me realize the potential I had. My boat speed was good but I can always improve on that. Starting is an area that I will have to focus on in an entirely different way and there are things I can do to turn that weakness around. I am still working on a detailed debrief of my performance at the Games but I generally know what it is I need to work on for the next quad and I will be putting together the plans to do just that.
Yes, I just said the next quad. I have decided to continue on and to work on a campaign to train the next four years in the hope of getting the chance to representing the VI again and if I am selected in the hope to medal.
Mark Rounding in one of the races
Arriving in London after my event in Weymouth, was something incredible. Thanks to Phillip Shannon, our Team Leader in Weymouth and for Lyn Reid, our Chef de Mission for making this happen! I had seen the real Olympic Village when I attended the Opening Ceremony, but this time was different. Charlie and I would be living amongst the best athletes in the world, sharing their same passion for sports, socializing with some while attending sporting events with others. What amazed me the most was to see how committed these athletes were, both mentally and physically. I mean I can say that I have the same commitment towards sailing, but I can’t see my daily routine, or the expression on my face when getting ready for competition. Just walking around the village it was pretty obvious to see which athletes were still in competition and which athletes had already competed based on their persona. And their physical attributes were something to marvel at, both male and female. Witnessing this will make me work even harder for Rio, 2016.
Something to look forward to.