Strange to be sitting here, writing this, these last few weeks being the culmination of a huge four years, eight years together as a team and twelve years of Olympic campaigning for Jo. The realisation that the journey is over for now, that we have done what we set out to do, and for those of you that say, what? You set out for Silver? I will explain below…
To begin: Let’s rewind four years and take you back to London, where we brought home the Gold medal. If you watched us cross that finish line, you would have seen the relief, the hugs and smiles, but also no crazy excitement, no jumping up and down, what sums it up was the question we asked each other as we crossed the line “Is that it?” We were happy, no doubt about that! We had just achieved what we all as Olympic athletes set out to do, won the Gold Medal, it was pretty incredible! But it was also backed up by our belief that we had only sailed a good event, an 8/10, not by any means what we we thought we were truly capable of.
Which brings us to why we kept going, why we began our campaign for Rio, we wanted to actually sail a great event, to show ourselves what we could do on the water, to prove to ourselves that yes, we can put together an amazing regatta. That we could back up the result with the process, the performance, which for us as athletes and just the people we are, is the highest point we could aim for.
Looking back, it has been a tough four years at times, we have been through injuries and illnesses, we have had our setbacks, we pushed too hard at times, we felt like we had to keep proving we were worthy of that medal we won in London, and there were times we both thought about stopping. But if you know us, you know we are more than mildly stubborn, and we set the goal of getting to Rio and we were going to make that happen.
Fast forward now to the 10th of August 2016, race day 1: It was all behind us, we were happy with our preparations, we were fast, fit, confident in the boat, and ready to give it whatever we had. We went out that first day and just sailed, we led both races, one bad call on the first race dropped us to 6th at the finish, and we smashed the second race to put a 1st on the board. To come ashore to find an Austrian boat protesting us for an incident in race one that at the time we had turned to each other and said “What? No idea what she is yelling about, we are so clear here”. A cross by us on port, with 1.5m to spare, tight yes, but rule infringing, not at all in our opinion. We had video to show us clear, they had a witness who also it seemed wanted us out. We lost the protest, and proceeded to appeal it for the next few days with no better luck. We came home that night to the team house and everyone thought we won the protest as we were not grumbling or angry, it was just what happens sometimes, things don’t go your way…
Day two, on the outside course, with breeze on and the biggest waves we have ever raced in! We had a solid day, a 4th in the first race, then winning the second race, with plenty of capsizes and breakages in the fleet, we were happy to come away with a solid day. Day three brought delays and postponements onshore, and we finally got out for one race, which we sailed beautifully apart from one silly decision on the last leg, to drop us from 5th to 12th. By far the biggest annoyance for Jo in this regatta, and she had a few angry outbursts after the race, and Gonzo’s deck got a few new dents… Luckily Polly was there to keep some perspective!
The next day of racing was outside once again, light winds and a bit of a swell running. We sailed what has to be one of our better races of all time, linking the pressure and playing the fleet, keeping composed and just staying ahead as the fleet closed in on the final leg, to cross the finish line with a win. Nathan then rather gently let us know that we had in fact been scored a UFD (over the start line early), and after our DSQ in race one, we would now be carrying an extra 21 points. It was a difficult moment, Polly reacted hard, to what we were both feeling but Jo wouldn’t say, that it was all over, that we had just ruined any chances we had. We regrouped and realised that from this point on, there was nothing we could do but sail each race as well as we could, let the results be what they would be, and try and be happy with our process. So straight into the next race, from a bad start, a complete comeback to 3rd, so in terms of simply sailing, a great day. That night it was Jo’s turn to react to it all, to feel hopeless, that we had just ruined four years of work in one day, and it was Polly there to keep us on the right track, do the only thing we could do. Keep battling.
Day five of racing didn’t quite happen, after sitting around onshore all day, we were sent out to sea, in time for a 40 knot squall to arrive and we all limped back to shore under jib alone, with plenty of damage and some rather shaken sailors. We survived well, as soon as we saw the breeze coming, we dropped the mainsail and headed for the shore, so we fared far better than most.
And then it was our last chance, three races on day six to give it everything we had and see where the chips fell. We went all out, we finished the day with a 1,1,4, on the scorecard, in two of those races we would not have changed a thing, they were beautifully sailed, they were incredible enjoyable, and we finished that day knowing we had tried. To come ashore and be given the results, to see that we had climbed up to 2nd overall was incredible. That feeling was even better when we saw that the rest of our fleet was busy protesting each other and were going to spend a late night at the jury room where we had taken up residence for the first half of the event, and for once we were at home eating dinner on time!
But it wasn’t over yet, yes, we were in 2nd, but for the final double points medal race it was going to be who-beats-who out of the Americans and the French and us, with the Japanese one point further back, and the Dutch also still in the mix. We knew our strategy – sail a good race, keep an eye on those four boats and try and piece it all together!
The first scheduled day of the medal race just didn’t happen, we sat around on the water for three hours in 30+ degrees, absolutely roasting. We were actually more tired on this day than nearly any other, falling asleep at 8pm! Good thing though, as the next day when we finally got our chance to race, it was great breeze and we needed to be sharp.
The medal race, on day eight of racing (longest regatta of our lives!) was an interesting race, we have watched the replay since, and it’s nice that yes, those little snap decisions we were making in the race did make sense looking back! I guess that’s where experience comes in…
It was not exactly a pretty race, it was a battle from start to finish, with the Americans taking an early lead, and us getting back in the mix on the second lap. It all looked a little pear shaped half-way down the last run, when it seemed everywhere we looked there was a boat we needed to beat making gains. But we held our composure and kept it together to cross the line in 3rd, ahead of everyone we needed to beat. The incredible feeling of coming into the last mark, seeing there was clear space ahead, that we had made it through the hardest part, that we would win the Silver, is such a clear memory. The elation and incredible sense of accomplishment, the relief, the knowledge that we had worked so incredibly hard for every piece of that medal, makes finishing Rio the proudest moment of our sailing careers to date. A big congratulations also to Hannah & Saskia, our British rivals who sailed a very tidy event, as well as Camille & Hélène from France, you were both teams we were proud to be up on the dias with.
It was an incredible day finished off by watching Pete & Blair and Alex & Molly bring home Gold and Silver as well. Quite a day for the NZ team, and with Sam’s Bronze medal from earlier in the week, the best Olympic results for NZL Sailing in a very long time.
It has been a bit of a whirlwind since then, so many emotions, so many feelings. Something that really stands out is the realisation that there is no way we could have done what we just did by ourselves. It was the support we had, firstly from each other, from our coach Nathan – The unflappable man, stable and completely selfless, giving everything through all our ups and downs, from the NZL Sailing Team sailors, from Caroline who just made everything work over there, to our team at home, Jane and Sly. The team at HPSNZ, Julia, Lou, Fiona. Our amazing team of sponsors back in NZ (and one amazing man over in Rio, thank you Paul). From the support on the ground in Rio, from PJ and Chris, to the hugs and chocolate when required, to the messages from home, to everyone that believed in us even when we lost a little faith…