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Conversations within the sport of sailing - Andrew Campbell
It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.
(May 26, 2009) The fifth event of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing World Cup series - the Delta Lloyd Regatta at Medemblik, Holland - will find over 650 sailors from 51 countries competing in 11 classes from May 27-31. This prominent Olympic training event finds 25 year old Andrew Campbell, who represented the U.S. in the Laser class at the 2008 Olympic Games, making his European debut in the Star class with veteran crew Brad Nichol, 29. On the eve of this event, Scuttlebutt checks in with Campbell:
What do you see as the biggest take-away from your 2008 Olympic campaign and Games experience?
The biggest take-away from the '08 campaign was that I have a new perspective on sailboat racing, on how I approach the sport, and how I take every new experience on the water. What I realized most was that regardless of your level of preparation, you still have to have the good fortune to win on the day. I matured drastically as a sailor during the final months leading into the 2008 Games, but didn't realize that I had until after the Olympic regatta was over. Sometimes you show up to a regatta and you cannot lose, you have prepared properly, and you get your nose out off every start line and cannot miss a shift. Other times, you can't buy a shift if your life depended on it.
What I realized was that so long as you are making the right decisions, the decisions that you are confident will work, you then have to leave things up to fate. That doesn't mean that I take a laissez-faire attitude toward the game, quite the opposite. I have a renewed faith in the fact that you create good luck by making good decisions all around the race course regardless of your position. Some regatta results are great, some are horrible, but constantly improving your potential is the only thing you can truly control. The fact that you're always preparing yourself properly, improving your personal capacity, making smart tactical decisions, and meeting your potential as a sailor, only then can you enter a regatta with an advantage. I had as good a shot as anybody entering the Olympic regatta, my racing didn't work out, and I will never forget the people I enjoyed the event with, nor the lessons I learned in the process.
What has led to the move from the Laser to the Star?
Moving to the Star has been a very rewarding move, if only for the couple of regattas I've been able to compete in. The fraternity of sailors involved is unparalleled in talent as well as quality of character. I was ready to start using my head instead of my legs and shoulders to get me out of tough situations. The rules of sailing restrict the full power of the Laser. There are always situations where sailors are pushing the rules by pumping a little more often, flicking the leach to gain those extra couple feet for a cross, or crashing into a mark rounding unscathed.
The Star is very different from the Laser in the sense that every boat goes around the track at virtually the same speed and your actions either optimize that speed or mistakenly disrupt it. Every trim or ease of any handful of lines, every slight push of the tiller can take the boat out of balance and drop you off the front row. I love the tension of sailing that depends on the best sailors to minimize mistakes. I was ready to break out of the dinghy mentality that the best sailors can erase a mistake by coming out of a tack a little faster than when you went into it. I've always tried to be a student of the game, and I appreciate the technical give and take of the Star. The demand for a steady feel for the boat is a challenging and rewarding part of the new boat.
Have you committed to a 2012 Olympic campaign in the class?
I'm as committed as I can be. I can't afford a boat at the moment, but as I said the sailors are an incredibly welcoming group. Chartering and borrowing equipment has helped me break into the scene. It is a little disconcerting that I have to essentially trade an entire Laser for a set of Star sails. With some additional support in the coming months, I'm confident we can make a good attack at winning a medal in Weymouth. Brad and I started sailing together this winter with the understanding that we would be able to improve each other's sailing and hopefully make a push into the next season. Now that the spring, summer and early fall are planned in the class, there are more questions to answer, primarily funding. As I found out in the Laser, there are plenty of ways to fundraise, and I know that we can develop a marketable product as we go along. The love of the game keeps me going, and feeding the habit will only mean that I have to do more sailing.
What skills from the Laser are transferring to the Star?
The skill sets are very different, as I explained above. The demand for patience in the keelboat is something I appreciate and can see improving my other sailing, even in just a few regattas. The Laser has given me a great gift of hours and hours with my hand on the tiller. I started to pick up the feel of the Star in a short amount of time, and the downwind sailing has many similarities. The only reason we picked up a spot on the US SAILING team was because we were able to sail the boat well downwind at the Rolex Miami OCR medal race. The Laser is a physical and feel-oriented boat, so seems the Star, but that is about where the similarities stop. The dynamics of having two people on board is a return to a challenge I enjoyed in college sailing at Georgetown University. The tuning and sail trim is something I'm sure I will be learning for a long time to come.
You have noted how Laser racing at the marks can be a cross between tactical turns and mortal combat. How did that fit with your personality and sailing style?
Mark roundings can be lawless in any fleet, but the Laser fleet has an especially wild reputation. I learned through 10 years of Laser sailing how to read sailors as they entered those types of situations. Having an understanding of when to assert yourself so that other sailors respect your position on the course, having a firm and confident grasp that you are, in fact, doing the right things usually is enough to establish yourself even in the most wild-westish situations. Also, knowing when to back off and simply let a team make fools of themselves can be the best play. Tactics are as much or more about anticipating the other boat's moves as it is about planning your own. I am a firm believer in controlling other boats by your actions, but there are great skills to be learned in the Laser fleet by reading other players as they enter the gladiators' arena at the three-length zone.
What is your Star schedule this year?
We're going to start the European circuit at Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland this week. We're scheduled to do Kieler Woche in Germany and Sail for Gold in England in September. Ideally we'll do the Worlds in Sweden as well. The schedule is filling up nicely.
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