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.
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