Saskia Tidey’s Tokyo Olympics
It was March 2020 at the Palma Mallorca Regatta when Olympic Sailing came to a standstill, along with the rest of the World due to the Pandemic. We had never experienced a boat park pack up quite like it. By the time we got in from our training session the majority of nations had left the island. It was the start of the unknown.
Lockdown was no different for elite sportspeople. Once back in the UK our boats and teammates were landlocked for the foreseeable future. The looming fear amongst all of us was, will the Olympics be cancelled?
At the time, worrying about the status of the Olympics almost felt selfish and very much a first World problem. But as an elite athlete you know you have the responsibility to maintain a level of skill, fitness and focus in order to be ready to press play on normal preparations and training to represent Team GB at the Olympics whenever that may be…
As lockdown eased in the UK the British Sailing Team was able to support us with creative bespoke gym programmes in Covid safe environments. Charlotte and I were lucky to bubble up with Dylan Fletcher Scott & Stuart Bithell for the majority of this time and create a fun and effective environment to reignite the fire and hunger towards Tokyo.
When the 2020 Olympic Games was postponed until 2021 it felt bittersweet. On one hand we were thankful for the games still going ahead given the circumstance the World was in. But, on the flip side we had to reassess what another year of campaigning looked like after 4 long years of momentum. We felt ready as a team in 2020 to execute on a medal winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics. Charlotte and I delivered a silver medal at the start of the 2020 season at the 49er FX World Championship in Geelong, Australia. And just before this in 2019 at the Olympic test event in Japan, we came home with a bronze medal. We had momentum and we felt a stride ahead of the rest of the World.
Managing the extra time quickly became about not looking back at what could have been but focusing on what was next and how to make the most of it.
Stevie Morrison who started working with us in 2020 helped us refocus and facilitated the goals we set out to achieve to improve on weaknesses in our campaign previously. Extra time gave us the opportunity to iron out some boat handling and analyse the low hanging fruit of our performance. Off the back of an intense fitness block we were primed and ready for our boat hitting the water again.
As elite sportspeople we were exempt from the travel restrictions put in place during lockdown. So, we headed South to warmer weather which would allow us to continue our training. Whilst in Lanzarote for the winter, we had the opportunity to optimise the equipment and systems on our boats. The time spent racing the international fleet and running our own training gave us the perfect environment to try and test equipment closely with Allen. We were making the important call on what products complimented our systems best. Some of our favourite Allen fittings are the small dog bones which we use around the boat to loop and lock dyneema halyards under tension. Another major improvement we made was ensuring the diameter of rope we chose for each sheet or halliard was appropriately fitted to the correct Allen block. For example, my spinnaker sheets are a thin 6mm rope so we married them with the 40mm Allen spinnaker ratchet blocks. These blocks give enough sensitivity which I need in light wind trimming, allowing me to feel the changing loads through the sheet, whilst having the strength to withstand strong winds as well. They are also light weight and helped toward reducing the overall weight on the boat. After this productive training block, it was time to send the boats to Japan.
It was vital when we arrived in Japan to have a Covid safe environment especially as the British Sailing Team is so big when all the sailors and support staff are together. The British Sailing Team absolutely nailed the environment. They made it such an enjoyable experience which helped boost the team energy as well as the support we gave one another through the pressure of the highs and lows.
When the racing started, we felt great. The first half of the event for Charlotte and I was better than anyone could hope for. We lead the regatta after the first 2 days which left us in a dominant position to fight from. However, a few unforced errors in the middle of the week threatened our point lead advantage and left us in a war with the other top 6 sailors over the final 2 days of the regatta.
We qualified for the medal race within reach of a Gold, Silver or Bronze. Unfortunately, that final medal race didn’t go our way. The heart wrenching sail ashore for both of us felt long and disappointing. But to be welcomed ashore by fellow teammates with arms wide open and genuine care and support was a healing experience at a time of real raw sadness.
As much as we wanted to have a private extended amount of time post-race to analyse, debrief and digest in reality we had no more than 20 minutes before we rallied around our fellow teammates, putting a on brave face to help create the atmosphere needed to support the rest of the Team.
The strength and dominance of the British Sailing team in Japan was an honour to be part of. Five years of battle and relentless perseverance to be the best is why medals were won.
To not share in holding a medal is tough and gutting but it has motivated me to seek new opportunities in the World of female sailing. The teamwork required to embark on success is vital and without the help of the team at Allen we would have fallen short of new innovative systems, which gave us reliability and confidence in our boat. I have learnt so much from asking questions and challenging the guys at Allen. Every conversation has resulted in the right move forward and a passion to solve the problem.
Looking at the future post-Olympic Games can be daunting, but I believe if you surround yourself with the right people, you will not stray far from the next best opportunity to learn and be a better sailor and athlete.
On to the next…
Photography: Will Carson & Saskia Tidey