The Olympic dream within never really dies. However old you get, whatever other challenges you take on, the fire that breathes within stays. There’s always one more battle to fight against friends from across the world, one more chance to excel, one more dream of Olympic glory.
In the second of five previews of the upcoming 2015 Finn Gold Cup in Takapuna, New Zealand, we look at two of the biggest names in the class over the past 10 years and what brings them back to the greatest singlehanded dinghy of them all.
The desire to compete at the highest level has always brought sailors back into the Finn class and 2015 is no exception. In Takapuna there are a number of returning sailing including the 2008 and 2012 Olympic silver medallists Zach Railey (USA) and Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN), good friends and training partners.
Railey has not competed in a Finn since the 2012 Olympics when he finished a disappointing 12th. What has brought him back again now? “I’m not sure what to call this…let’s say it’ a trip around the old block for fun and to see what I’ve got left in the tank.
I really missed sailing, especially in the Finn and the guys on the circuit. Second I’ve been working a ton and needed to add back some balance and get my health and fitness back under control. What better way than to go sailing and get back in the gym and have something to aim for like racing at the worlds. I am already down over 20 kg in weight and feel great health wise so it’s been goal accomplished on that end. Third, a bunch of my good friends and new friends decided to come train in Clearwater so why not join them?
The group training in the US included Høgh-Christensen, along with 2010 world champion, Ed Wright (GBR) and 2014 Junior world champion, Anders Pedersen (NOR), so it was a good indication of likely form at the Gold Cup.
Høgh-Christensen commented, “Zach is Zach and his talent is obvious. I am surprised at how well he has been doing during practice. Yes, he is a bit rusty, but the boat is moving well and he is getting around the race course really well. I think his perspective has changed and he is a much more complete sailor today than in 2012 even though he hasn’t sailed a lot. He really looks like he is having fun and he knows what it takes to become one of the best in the class. It will be fun to follow his progress over the next 2-4 months.
Railey explained that in the end the decision was easy. “The guys were here in town and had set up training. I just joined in on their programme and it’s worked nicely for me. I can still meet my business obligations and get time on the water and at the gym. Just sailing at home it felt like I could get around the race course relatively well. Also I needed to travel to Australia for a personal and business trip the week after the Worlds so why not sail if I am down there. Things just seem to fall into place sometimes. So, I’ve been sailing as much as possible and also hitting the gym as much as I can. Again, this is more of a personal challenge than anything else for me and I’m enjoying it.
Does he have longer terms plans in the class for Rio? “The US selection will be based on Miami and the Europeans next year, but that’s is a long time away from now. I am just doing this for myself and pushing to see what I can do. I’m honestly not worried about what chances I have because that doesn’t change why I did this in the first place.”
In contrast, after declaring he had probably sailed his last Finn race in 2012, Høgh-Christensen made a comeback at the beginning of this year and is very focussed on the end goal.
“I have been very happy with the progress we have been doing in the last 2-3 months. I have finally had the time to dig deep and really work on getting better in all aspects of the game. I really feel we have improved a lot, but we will see. I am sure everybody has been working hard lately. Compared to 2011, I feel in better shape and further forward on my technique in the boat. There is still a long way to go, but I feel good.
“The training group has been great. Our ‘Finn Fat Camp’ has been working hard on getting less fat and more fit. I think we had a group of really talented sailors and a lot of experience in the group and we have moved forward a lot. We have done 45 days full on training with double gym sessions and sailing every day. We have pushed really hard but had a lot of fun while doing it.”
Of the training group in Florida he said, “Ed is a great training partner and friend and his knowledge is vast. He is one of the best all round sailors I know and he is fitter than most people in any sport. Always pushes hard. Can’t ask for more. Chris Cook (CAN) is also a great friend who has been involved the last couple of months.”
“Anders is young, but very talented and I see a lot of myself 10 years ago in him. A little cocky, trains hard, wants to win bad and getting better by the minute. If he keeps pushing he will be a future star.”
“André [Hojen-Christansen) is a young Danish sailor who has only sailed the Finn for about one year. He jumped at a last minute chance of coming to USA and working with us and his actions shows that he wants to work hard at it.”
On his goals in Takapuna Høgh-Christensen said, “My primary goal is to figure out where I am compared to the top guys. I will probably know a lot more after a week of training. When race time comes I will try and win as always (who doesn’t want to be in the three time world champion club) but my focus is the long game towards Rio.”
While Høgh-Christensen has two Finn Gold Cup victories under his belt already, in 2006 and 2009, Railey’s best result was as runner-up, to Høgh-Christensen in 2009. If ever there was unfinished buisness this is it.
Tomorrow we will look back at the last time the Finn Gold Cup was sailed in New Zealand, in 1980, also hosted by the Takapuna Boating Club, as seen through the eyes of one of the greatest sailing commentators of all time, Peter Montgomery.
The Pre-worlds regatta runs from this Tuesday 17 to Thursday 19 November. The Finn Gold Cup runs from Saturday 21 to Sunday 29 November. Ten races are scheduled from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 November, with the medal race and final race on Sunday 29 November.
More information on the event website at: 2015.finngoldcup.org