Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wrap Up

Dear Friends of Kirkland Brothers 49er Sailing,

Since we finished up racing at the 2012 Olympic Games last month, we have had some time to let things settle for a reasonable reflection of this defining event in our lives (the whole three year campaign!). For so long, all we have been focused on is eating, breathing, thinking the campaign. It is definitely strange to be done with it! No longer does the burden of the mission weigh on us, no more do the lofty goals lay on our shoulders; never before have we been so pushed so hard for so long for one goal. It wasn’t just the sailing that got us out of our comfort zone, for often we battled with the fundraising and the complex logistics to keep us on track.

Being done has allowed us to look back on the campaign with some perspective and think about how far we have come in such a short time and to appreciate all our support along the way. Simply, this project never would have been possible without all the goodwill and generosity over the course of the campaign!! To be Bermuda Sailing’s first Olympic Skiff team is an honor and hopefully the beginning of a proud legacy in high performance sailing. Trail blazing is not an easy task, but it has been a rich experience. Robert Frost was onto something!

The mission was an adventure and took us all over, with us never staying in one place longer than 6 weeks consecutively: 8 trips to Europe (averaging 5-6 weeks), 1 trip to Australia, 4 drives cross America, 3 winters in Miami, and 2 Falls in California. We logged over 300 days of 49er sailing (days spent rigging/transport not included) and sailed in everything from the calm conditions of the Mediterranean to the open ocean waves of the Northern Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz.

We stayed with friends when we could, in tents or on the floor when we had to, in boats in the marina if we had the opportunity to and in apartment rentals when all other free options were exhausted. Our frugal accommodation budget allowed us to focus our money towards important items like coaching and boat expenses. We also did well with transportation expenses, often hitch hiking ourselves and the 49ers around Europe – teams were always looking to split gas! There was a real ‘can do’ attitude whenever we approached logistics and we didn’t let tough predicaments drag us down.

The feeling of vindicating all our early donors support with our qualification was great! Outside of us and our close circle of friends, the mission looked tough odds and questionable if it should have been tackled. Luckily we had confidence in our vision and there was enough critical mass behind us to get started. So special thank you to those that came on board in those early days, where the campaign existed in a tenuous state. The Grateful Dead tune “Uncle John’s Band” comes to mind “Well, the first days are the hardest days...”

Another critical moment maintaining the campaign’s solvency was the amazing fundraiser at Kathy and Peter Watsons’ House last October. This was massively successful in raising capital for the last hurdle of expenses. Many people helped out to make this a hit and many others so willingly participated in the auction/registry, which vastly surpassed our expectations for the evening…Thank you!!

With that cash influx we were able to get a new boat (Cahow!!) in Europe and afford Ramon, one of the best coaches in the world. That evening during our presentation we pitched the idea there was a correlation between results and coaching support…and we proved that this was the case with a 13th at a Grade 1 World Cup Event (Mallorca, Spain) and 10th at the World Championships months later.

Goal Setting
We came along way these past 3 years: from the humbling days of learning how to trapeze/keep the 49er upright and getting 2nd last at the 2010 Worlds (our first event), to our medal race showing at this year's World Championship it has been quite a ride! We are proud that we set realistic goals throughout the project timeline and put us where wanted to be in time for London 2012. It was no easy task back in 2008 to map out an expedited campaign, but we knew we could do it. For us, the general progression was: 49er boat handling - 49er Style Racing - Gold Fleet Racing - Olympic Qualification at 2012 Worlds - the Olympics. We didn’t panic early on when the results were rough because we knew we were still tackling the tricky boat handling stage of our development curve.

It is wild to read our results goals from 2008 and to see how close we got to them! To be able to look forward 4 years, at our infant stage in this demanding boat and say we would be ready at the 2012 Worlds (for Olympic Qualification) and possibly fighting for a top 10 finish was amazing! It is a testament to a sound self-assessment, quality reconnaissance with sailors with similar pedigree, vision and long-range execution. The other initial milestones of the campaign were also met, but there was a delay because of our lack of coaching early on due to financial realities, which curbed our march up the learning curve.

What is cool about Olympic campaigns is that everybody has their own story, you learn it in the boat park, at the pub, the long drives around Europe, and during the Olympics on TV. The successful ones you see on TV every 4 years are powerful, but all the ones you don’t hear about are just as moving. Everybody there has put their personal lives on hold, made laden sacrifices, trained hard, been cash-stricken and spent months away from their friends/loved ones to try and become the oh-so romanticized Olympian. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it”, was definitely something that we caught ourselves saying throughout the campaign.

Our Olympic story is no different: a tale of driven Brothers from a tiny country with little institutional support, unintimidated by the challenges of World class standards and armed with a ‘can-do’ attitude to be ready for London 2012. When you are immersed in it, glory is largely eclipsed by the hard work, sacrifice and the grueling transient lifestyle. On this note, our parents deserve a massive thanks for their consistent support throughout the entire campaign, like many critical beams of support for this campaign, we couldn’t have done it without you two! Indeed they were very helpful in cradling and molding the delicate early days of the campaign, which no doubtably made this year’s success a reality.

Then there’s the pressure: all this time, all this money, all this sweat, what do you have to show for it?! What if we don’t make it??

This was certainly on our minds at this year’s World Championships. We went into the regatta knowing we had to excel for a week against a large field of deserving competitors for a scarce amount of Olympic spots. How gutted would we have felt if after all this, we had come away with nothing? Having this fear nestled in the back of our minds fired us up for our immensely successful training period leading up to the Worlds in Croatia. However, the drawback of peaking for the Worlds in May was not being at our best for the Olympics. Not that we didn’t give it everything for the Games, but recovering from an intense focused period takes time, and we just didn’t have enough to reach another peak. We diagnosis this matter as simply not having enough time, for if we had been sailing for another year, we could have probably qualified for the Games in Perth, and gone into Weymouth fired up and ready to take it by storm. But alas, it’s a reality that we knew we’d have to deal with from the beginning.

In further analysis of the Games regatta, we definitely had the potential, but things just didn’t go our way. Fraught with bad luck and unexecuted maneuvers, we just came up short. That’s sport, especially sailing for you! At the elite Olympic level, you pay dearly for your mistakes and unfortunately for us it was not our week. We had our moments in a diverse set of conditions, which proved we were competitive in all wind strengths, but couldn’t string together a complete series. We had 3 top 6 finishes (one 2nd), in races where it was no fluke if you ended the race at the front because of the high number of laps we were sailing (often 4 laps!) – you earned it if you stayed ahead through that type of race!

All in all, we have to be pleased for what we achieved in our campaign. Elite sports can be cruel world (relatively) sometimes, but we must walk away with our heads held high. It has been nothing short of a battle of attrition. What an amazing experience that inculcated us with many incredible life-long lessons. Once again, thanks again for enabling us to achieve our Olympic dreams!!

Jesse and Zander

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Here's a little piece on us from a local newspaper near to St Marys College, where Jesse went to school.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Training in Weymouth Wrap-Up

Our month of training has flown by, with our arrival to Weymouth in late May seeming just like yesterday. The sailing at the Olympic venue has been beneficial yet wearing, as we put in a lot of hours on the water in more than undesirable conditions. England blessed us with munificent rainfall as it goes down as “one of the wettest Junes on record”! Weather aside, the sailing was very productive with training sandwiched between two events, the Sail for Gold and the Coaches Regatta. Our goals heading into this important Pre-Olympic training were to: get acquainted (more like slapped in the face) with sailing in Weymouth, get stronger, and above all, refine our >15kts racing tactics and speed.

In the month we accomplished what we set out to do- we both feel stronger and more confident in the breeze. Weymouth brought forth about every wind speed and direction over the tranche of training. We were fortunate to be granted such a diverse pallet of conditions to get ourselves comfortable and the rig appropriately tuned. It was almost Ground-Hog Day every week, as we were constantly bombarded by low pressure system after low pressure system on the same weekly schedule!...Friday was usually the day when it would blow 40knots+ and we could do nothing but check over the equipment and gym it.

The training culminated with the Coaches Regatta which was attended by everyone but the Aussies and Kiwis. It was a great experience to not only to gauge our abilities against these top-calibre guys, but also to observe and analyze the nuances and tendencies of a quality 20-boat fleet. On evaluation of the racing (which saw several days of 15 + knots, with the last day hitting mid 20s), we are stoked to be able to play with the top players. Looking towards the Games, we are optimistic of our chances of getting quality scores if we get a blustery day.

So, with the Olympic Venue closed for preparations, we are returning home to thaw out and rest before the BIG EVENT. We are excited to experience a little summer, and to recharge the battery! We will have a little reprieve from each other as Zan will head out to Hawaii to be a Groomsman for a friends wedding. On July 17th, we will reunite in London and resume a week of hard training to get to mind and body back in rhythm with the boat before the Regatta starts on the 30th.

Thanks again for all the support that has enabled us to reach this point. Our ultimate goal is not far now!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sail for Gold Wrap up

Kirklands learn from tough week at Olympic venue
By Colin Thompson

Jesse and Zander Kirkland reckon they learned valuable lessons at this week’s Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth, England.

The siblings’ main priority heading into the regatta was to get reacquainted to heavy air racing and they probably received more than they bargained for as strong gales and tall seas wreaked havoc on the 49er fleet.

The Kirklands only managed to get in three days of competitive sailing as the unsuitable conditions prevented them from completing a full quota of races.

Still, crewman Zander believes there were positives to take away from the final dress rehearsal for next month’s Olympic Games.

“The takeaway from this event is that it has refocused us on what exactly to work on for these final three weeks here before we show up for the Games,” he said. “With strong winds we need to continue to refine our rig settings so we are up to speed with the top guys.

“We will also be working on our boat handling and fitness to make sure we are sailing the boat as hard as possible in tough conditions. We will also be purchasing some warmer gear.”

Chilly winds reached as much as 50 knots in Weymouth earlier this week, forcing organisers to reshuffle, postpone and in some cases cancel races.

Weather permitting, the Kirklands intend to go back on the waters today to get in some more practice, now that their Skandia regatta campaign is over.

Next week will see the duo continue their Olympic preparations under the watchful gaze of coach and former top British 49er sailor Mark Asquith.

The Kirklands qualified for the upcoming Games after finishing ninth at last month’s 49er World Championships in Croatia.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Worlds RECAP and Moving Forward

After a couple weeks to regroup after an eventful and draining World Championship (18 races over 6 days), we are keen to get back in the 49er. We did manage to squeeze a few nice days in Rome (easily saturating our history thirst!) with our parents, before heading home. Jesse also pit-stopped at his old college, St Mary’s, to help their team prepare for ICSA Team Race Nationals. On Monday, we continue our push for London as we head to Weymouth for a month of training, which includes the Sail for Gold Regatta and the ‘Coaches Regatta’.

But back to the Worlds! It was a tremendous event for us seeing us stamp our ticket to the Games with a 9th place finish (BER 9!). We were pleased we could continue improving after an incredibly productive month in Palma in March/April that saw its fruition in our 13th place. It was a confidence booster knowing that we have the pace to hang with the Worlds’ elite in <15knots. Also, the Worlds saw us gain our first experience into the Medal Race, which hopefully will benefit us down the road… All in all, we are ecstatic about the Worlds’ finish, but the mission is not over. The goal remains London. There are certain facets of our sailing we can improve upon, and all qualifying did was give us more time. There is no room for contentment or complacency with our current level and we will be hungry to get better. We need to clock some more time in windy conditions between the facts that Weymouth can effortlessly RIP, and that we have been breeze starved most of our time in the Mediterranean this spring. We can also say, that Mark Asquith, ex-49er British Skandia team member has joined Team Bermuda as our coach. We are excited to get him on board with the island nation from Sail for Gold thru the Games! The dream remains alive thanks to all our supporters. Keep posted as we continue our final push for London!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

9th at Worlds!

The 18 race World Championship (17 races and 1 Medal race) is in the books after 6 days of tricky sailing in the light to moderate winds off Zadar, Croatia. The 74 boat fleet had sailors from 32 countries. We finished 7th country. It was a huge event for us! - First Gold Fleet qualification at a 49er World Championship (this is our 3rd Worlds) - First Bermuda team in the 49er Class at the Olympics!!!! May this continue - First Medal Race appearance in a 49er event - First Gold Fleet Bullet The other countries that qualified with us here were: Italy, Japan, Canada and Greece. We will reflect more when this has sunk in, but for now we will recharge after a draining, stressful week of sailing. We still have 2 more months before the Games and look to continue the learning as we head into the Olympics. We would like to thank our dedicated friends (both who were here and elsewhere), who have helped make this seemingly giant task a reality for us. We couldn't have done it without you...THANK YOU! Stay tuned and Go BERMUDA!! -Zander

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gold Fleet at Worlds and Olympic Qualification!

more news to follow, but we made it into GOld fleet and have qualifief Bermuda in the 49er class! 3 days of Gold Fleet racing now Thanks for all your support! Couldn't have done it without you! best, Zan and Jess