Please select your home edition
Rooster Women's Wetsuit Range

It's upon us

by John Curnow, AUS Editor 2 Jul 10:00 BST
Olympic rings - 2012 Olympic Sailing Regatta, Weymouth © Richard Gladwell

Paris 2024 happens this month. Little wonder it seems like it has come back around quickly, when this current quadrennial actually started in 2021. Still. Is what it is... 12 sailors comprise the Australian Olympic Sailing Team. Three are 'old hands' at the biggest show on earth, two have medals to prove it, and the other nine are debutants.

Opening with the closing, we wish them all the very best for their respective events from July 28 to August 8. You can get all the necessary information as it unfolds from Sail-World, of course, but also here.

The team is thus:

  • Matt Wearn OAM - ILCA 7
  • Zoe Thomson - ILCA6
  • Grae Morris - iQFOiL
  • Breiana Whitehead - Formula Kite
  • Oliva Price and Evie Haseldine - 49erFX
  • Jim Colley and Shaun Connor - 49er
  • Brin Liddell and Rhiannan Brown - Nacra 17
  • Nia Jerwood and Conor Nicholas - 470
Buried in all of that are the incredible stories of determination, passion, and drive, no matter whether they are 'seasoned', or 'green' as a hand of new bananas. Watching from quite close, and also afar, really has been a true delight that I am very thankful for, and their personalities are as interesting as their journeys to get here. No matter their results, or how tired they were at the end of the day, their responses to questions made for great reading, and also showed just how much the mental game played into all they have done, and continue to do.

Time then to cue a chat with Australian Sailing Team Technical Director, Michael Blackburn, who is no stranger to it all, no matter whether that is hand around the tiller itself, or on the throttle of the coaching RIB.

As a way of describing them all, Blackburn reflected on the incredible drive and the enthusiasm Zoe Thomson has for the whole programme. "She talks about it by describing how this sport has really got its hooks in her, and in turn this really gets your attention. I think that's a key element of being someone really good in the sport is that there's some sort of obsession with it", said Blackburn who is very much qualified to talk on the subjects of drive, enthusiasm, passion, and obsession.

"It's something you see in the top performers over time. A coach can do a certain amount with them, and they do need to put in the extra discretionary effort, so to speak, as well as being out on the water, but it's also a lot of time off the water thinking about it and honestly wondering how to go a bit faster each day", said Blackburn relative to the all-important mental game. "We're certainly putting a lot of effort into it."

The course at Marseille can offer light, fluffy and benign days, and then of course the Mistral, Sirocco, or even Bora can blow in. The regatta is very spread out, and some classes will have finished before others even start. The you have the added hype of the 'Big O', all the family and friends who have come to watch, and so yes, it is different, if nothing else.

"You'll see racing in a whole lot of different conditions, depending on the class. And I think we can be assured that there'll be some good variety over that time from the end of the Mistral, to the wider seabreeze, and that sort of stuff. It should be quite interesting that way.

"It's a long regatta with events starting and finishing in a very staggered way. The iQFOiL have their marathon as the first race of the Games on July 28. The Women are first up, and then the Men start an hour later (Grae Morris for Team AUS). On the same day both skiff classes commence, as well. It's elongated for the support staff, but the athletes have the usual five to six days of competition. The Kite Foil, Nacra 17 and 470 all start in the second week, for instance. Managing stress and the emotional state of play will be crucial."

The so called 'newbies' will have plenty of experience surrounding them, with an impressive 47 Olympics to draw upon from fellow athletes, coaches, and staff. "Over the past few months we've been gradually drip-feeding experiences, stories, tales, and elements of performing at the Games that work well to the scene. We're just trying to get them gradually familiar with what can happen, what can go wrong, and what the major pitfalls could be during the Games."

No matter what occurs though, you still have to get it right on the track, across different conditions, and the idea has been to get everyone to become an all-rounder. The Australian Sailing Team is known for being methodical, and has playbooks developed for the different locales and weather patterns. This intel has proven to be indispensable. The B&G equipment in the coaches' RIBs has been a critical element of this. So much so that other countries have adopted similar technology standpoints.

Of course, having the information is one thing, knowing how to cut it up and analyse it is another, and to this day the 11 secret herbs and spices deployed by the AST remains a closely guarded, sealed by death warrant secret squirrel business kind of thing. Let's just say it works, and I'd rather stay alive... Thank you. No more to be said.

Note too that phones and Wi-Fi devices are not permitted on the water at the Games, so you have to have the day's playbook etched into your mind before you leave the beach. Instant data is all the coaches are allowed. Recording and transmission not permitted. Game on at the Games, right? Not here to meddle with spiders, you know...

If you're thinking there's a formula, mission, and parameters involved here, you'd be right. The militaristic overtone is well founded. "It's no secret that we've had a bit of an association with the military for previous Olympics, specifically through the SAS and their processes as it pertains to the briefing and debriefing exercises, and the seriousness of it all with respect to how go about their preparation."

"It's stuff that's been instilled in our team and that military precision definitely pays off. We've got a serious bunch of athletes, serious bunch of coaches and staff who simply have the highest standards in play every day. We're not going to put pressure on anybody by over-engaging in discussion about their prospects."

Having said all of that, we know that Matt Wearn is a genius, it will be good to see how the Men's skiff go, as it is one brutal class. Olivia is obviously terribly motivated, having come full circle, so to speak, and Evie appears wise beyond her years. Breiana has shown what she's capable of, time and time again, and Grae has tremendous shoulders, relative to carrying the load and powering on, as it were. Nia and Conor probably just need to flatten out scoresheet, and Brin and Rhiannan are sort of four years ahead of the curve.

So what does Blackburn see? "18 months ago, Brin and Rhiannan had no ambitions or expectations to actually be at the Olympics. They were hoping for 2028. Obviously that's been accelerated, as too have been their performances. Whereas they used to be outside the top 20, now they're knocking on the door of the top 10. That's probably where their expectations lay for these Games. They're still on a rapid growth phase of their careers and their best performance won't be this year, but they're more likely to be in future years. Possibly seeing them in the in the medal race would be a really good thing."

With respect to Nia and Conor, Blackburn said, "I think it's their desire to be more consistent. They've been on a development path which has had its share of ebbs and flows, and that has involved strong learnings, particularly around starting and downwind."

Zoe Thomson could be best described as an F-117 Nighthawk, for she is as brilliant as flying under the radar as she is at getting the job done in a tough, ultra-competitive class dominated by some long standing, super-capable sailors. "She's trying to be the best sailor she can", said Blackburn.

The Quicks (skiffs) is always exciting racing. I think the snakes and ladders was definitely invented with the quicks in mind. You know, you're boiled lollies to chocolates and back to boiled lollies before you even blink. The Phillips brothers put a bullet against their names in the breeze at Tokyo, but highlighting how impenetrable the fleet can be, the overall card did not see them on the podium. Jim and Shaun have sort of shown that they can come out with the gloves on and be the boxing kangaroo, and Olivia and Evie are sort of the quiet achievers.

"I think that the snakes and ladders analogy is just perfect for the 49ers. It's amazing how close the scores can be in a regatta. It means that every point counts. Just finishing one or two points ahead in every race can make a difference between being in the top 10, or securing a coveted top three spot. Jim and Shaun have to hone in on the processes, especially around the starting, and where they get to the attacking point on the corners, where they can perhaps get that one or two boats ahead", stated Blackburn.

Starting in the skiffs can be a bit like getting away from the grid at Mt Panorama. Full tank of fuel, can't stall lest you become a hazard, not slide down the grid riding the clutch the whole way and ruin your chances for longevity later on. Conversely, do well and you have a glamour position at the first turn. "Yes, exactly. Except it's a track that is 20 cars wide, the track undulates and moves, and you don't know how much power you have on the accelerator at any time, because it keeps changing."

"The fine tuning of the sails from moment to moment, and the coordination between skipper and crew are obviously huge parts of it. Jim and Shaun have spent such a long amount of time together to work on that ballet or dance. Olivia and Evie maybe not quite as long, but certainly they talk about it so well in terms of their roles and responsibilities, which is how they keep it so efficient and fast", added Blackburn. "A lot goes into the coordination of the trim and the accuracy of how well they sail." Did someone say Beijing?

"You know, we're delighted we're going and know what we need to do. We've got seasoned heads. We've got new heads. I think we've got a team who are really clear on their expectations for the regatta, no matter where they lie. They're doing really well with the planning and processes they've put in place. They're all just excited and keen to get their uniform, with the coat of arms on, get the 'Australia' across their backs, and just get into it." In the case of the Quicks, that includes flying the Aussie kite. "Yes. Exactly", said an emphatic Blackburn.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow AUS Editor

Related Articles

Never again! (Except for next time…)
What's it like to take a Cruiser/Racer racing? And not just any old race What's it like to take a Cruiser/Racer racing? Not just any racing, mind you, but two of the world's most famous courses. The Transpac and the Hobart. This was the premise presented to Charles Ettienne-Devanneaux ahead of our most recent chat. Posted on 17 Jul
Whisper it quietly..
Don't say it too loudly, but the Youth Sailing Worlds are taking place next week Don't say it too loudly, but the Youth Sailing World Championships are taking place at Lake Garda in under a week's time. Posted on 9 Jul
Make mine a Magnum
50 year old International Moth design gets a 21st century make-over In almost every respect, 'Magnum' was a 1970s classic, but 50 years on the Magnum Moth is about to get a 21st century make-over. Sailors wanting to join the growing Lowrider Moth fleet just have to ask themselves, "Do you feel lucky?" Posted on 27 Jun
Performance vs. Participation
Or Correlation vs. Causation? I've heard many a time that one of the reasons for a fall in participation in sailing is the increased performance of boats. Effectively, the skill level and athleticism required in high performance boats excludes a range of people from participating. Posted on 25 Jun
The latest kit for summer boating, rain or shine
Our pick of the latest kit Summer's finally here and the season is in full swing. Here's our pick of the latest kit for racing, cruising and enjoying the water, rain or shine. Posted on 19 Jun
It's just a stick
It was just like watching an enthusiastic kid It was just like watching an enthusiastic kid. Alinghi's Silvio Arrivabene was totally in the 'nothing to see here' mode, and moreover, was keener to get into the ‘maybe exceeding them' remarks about their targets. Did someone say, ‘Spinal Tap'? Posted on 17 Jun
Corinthian Spirit
The inaugural Corinthian J70 Worlds had a superb entry of 109 boats Sailing has gone through phases of being professional and Corinthian. Originally a pastime for the rich, then becoming a sport for everyone during the boom in the 1960s and 1970s. Posted on 11 Jun
Para, Inclusive and Open RS Venture Connect
We find out more ahead of the upcoming World Championship at Rutland, UK We speak to Dan Jaspers, who is responsible for International Sales and Business Development at the RS Marine Group, about the RS Venture Connect. Posted on 6 Jun
Going to publish the 'F' word
There was a distinct, if decidedly unfair, hint of the Darwin Awards when I first saw this There was a distinct, if decidedly unfair, hint of the Darwin Awards when I first saw this item come in. Most specifically, it related to the one where the guy had strapped a JATO rocket to his car. Posted on 3 Jun
Complex, Controlled Coordination
Get it right and you'll have far more enjoyment when out on the water The International Paint Poole Regatta over the late May Bank Holiday long weekend in the UK was a superb yacht racing event. Posted on 29 May