olympic blues

olympic blues

Team USA had another weak event at the huge Perth ISAF Worlds, only making it to the podium in three of the ten classes, and only getting into the top ten in half of them, and once again, Anna Tunnicliffe is the shining star in a group that’s otherwise struggling for results. The most honest and heartfelt story we’ve read from Perth comes not from the former Laser gold medalist, but from her husband, Brad Funk, whose performance in Perth failed to qualify him for Weymouth. Here’s the story, and thanks to Funky’s mother-in-law for the shout.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with the Laser. I have always needed to go fast in a sailboat and the Laser took the edge off that need, most of the time.
I was ‘gyming’ (going to the gym) to build muscle like a steroid freak, eating to the point where I couldn’t sleep all through the night because I had to wake up and eat a bar or have a 1200 calorie shake, biking with so much discipline I didn’t know if I spent more time looking at my power-tap (power meter) or where I was going; it was totally my life. The objective was to log something towards the campaign everyday, as my wife, Anna Tunnicliffe (2 time world sailor of the year), said to me about a year ago, and I’ve lived that way ever since. My mission: to go to the Olympic games as a serious player in a class in which, in the gold fleet at any World Cup event, all 50 guys could win a race!

So now that I got that off my chest I’m going to tell you what happened on the water the first two races in gold fleet, my day-off in the jury room for two different presentations of the same story and the outcome of the last day.

The first race was overcast with 12 to 14 knots of wind blowing parallel to land. It was a low pressure system with normal characteristics of instability – wind shifts up to 40 degrees and no consistent pattern. So it was a ‘head-out-of-the-boat’ day looking for pressure, not knowing if a lift was coming or a header. The pin-end of the line was super congested; I saw that as restricting my options so shifted up the line 20 boats.

Off the line, we went just as the next pressure hit. It was a 30 degree knock and everyone to leeward of me tacked but the 10 guys on my hip remained on starboard pinning me. I decided it wasn’t worth tacking and ducking them quite yet because I figured they would all realize that we needed to go and eventually they did. I tacked into a tough lane but because of the huge lift I had to stay. Then on the other side of the course, the guys who started at the boat end of the line and tacked immediately to port, got a 30 degree righty and as they all tacked back, I found myself at the bottom of a pyramid after 2 minutes of sailing, saying to myself, "I have a lot of work to do!"

Hiking as hard as I could, my hiking strap started to rip apart. The stitching that holds the foam part, the bit you hike from, to the webbing, would rip every time I straight legged, making it harder and harder to hike because the foam moved aft in the boat leaving only the seat belt webbing top layer. My boots constantly rolled the webbing bit into a mini-sushi roll at the end of my toes, resulting in me having to stop hiking, unroll and re-adjust to high on my boot again. With the shifty conditions, it sucked massive donkey b**ls (made my life very difficult), having to tack 15 times on many big shifts. I really feel for the Volvo Round The World guys having to move sails on a busy squall day! Haha. Rounded in the 30’s. On the second and third beats my hiking strap got worse but I fought hard not to lose any more spots.

Arthur helped me refuel, get up to the line and then taped the foam underbelly of the strap forward again with electrical tape. I started looking for the equipment boat but the foxtrot flag went up so got under way and had to deal with it.

Next up most of the fleet started at the boat, lining up for the next pressure which was middle right so I started just below the pack from the boat thinking to bank if the shift was a lefty and get into same pressure, but if a righty, would bank in next lefty. It was a 40 degree righty that stayed the whole first leg putting me in the 20’s at top mark. Started to make my move downwind but on the second and third beats, the strap/tape job failed and the strap got worse. So now I had nothing to hike on but the middle, which was way too far back given the terrain/choppy conditions. It was not fast. A long hard battle to take home a 34 and 35.

When I got ashore I filed for redress for equipment failure. Got the run around town as to where the forms were and eventually managed to return for the hearing at 5. I had a full international jury consisting of judges from Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands and UK. They said that my form was in their hands 9 minutes late and as such, redress may not be valid. I brought in Jean-Luc, Chief Measurer for Lasers to give pertinent information that the hiking straps had had some problems before and that there was no notification to competitors that we could use our own straps. The jury ruled in favor of my redress – average points for three races, one from this day and the next two races to be sailed. (They said they could not give average of regatta because qualifying series was less competitive so that wouldn’t work.) So I had to keep one of my scores for that day and hoped I could get great scores on last day to bring my average down.

Then in the morning of my day off, I got an email that the jury was reopening my case for some reason. I got word that Clay Johnson filed for redress saying that his strategies were changed now because of my redress. His case was quickly dismissed, but during his presentation he took the opportunity to say that I knew that we could change our hiking straps, which I did not. He further told them that Chris Dold, whose boat was next to mine had his strap changed while I was there. Dold attested that I was not present at that time. Mike Kalin said I was in the boat park but that didn’t make me present when someone is working on their boat. It was unbelievable the depths the jury went to while interrogating everyone, the measurer and me included, about where I was and how hard it is to sail with a broken strap. Jury called only me in for the verdict; no new facts were found and the decision was left as it was so I went home to eat leaving Johnson there not knowing the verdict. I thought that was hilarious. He had brought me in there for no reason but then I got the last laugh about that. What a fiasco!

Into last day of racing and anything could still happen. The low pressure system was still lingering making the possibility for the strong sea breeze the Aussies call "The Doctor", nigh on impossible. It actually never really made it to the regatta at all which was unfortunate, as we had all trained for it. But anyways. Rob Crane had a few points on me and Johnson was at 40 points but that’s not a lot in a strong 50-boat fleet. Arthur towed me out early along with Matt Wearn, the young Aussie kid otherwise know as Wormdog, to see if we could find some patterns in the very light developing sea breeze.

Everyone seemed a bit weary on the line not knowing how this one would pan out. Five to seven knots with random patchy wind made for tough racing for everyone to the point that the whole fleet got mixed up. The fleet started to spread out near the top where left side looked good and the right got pressure late. This made the reach leg very tight and evenly spread out the fleet on the downwind. My speed had been improving the whole event downwind and I climbed into the teens by the second weather mark. I played the left because the pressure was consistently visible over there. Passed a few more to mid teen finish. Johnson was close at the beginning but got caught in congestion. That sort of situation makes for very difficult sailing because there aren’t the good passing lanes upwind and downwind and he finished around 40th. Crane had positioned well for the first beat and kept it together to win the race.

So it came down to the last race. Would it be Crane, Johnson, or me going to the Olympics? Not thinking of the end result, Arthur and I continued to observe the development of the wind, looking for patterns. I decided to start a quarter of the way up from the pin-end. Thought the group I was in was a bit close to the line and not wanting to be over, I held back a bit but then had a difficult time holding my lane off the line. Held for a bit until the other boats on my hip bailed out meaning I didn’t have to duck a massive pack. (That’s the worst.) Found myself clear soon after the start but in the middle of the course which previously had been a scary place to be (all shifts and pressure usually coming in from a side rather than down the middle). Got the tail end of the left pressure riding into the mark and then slightly stronger right pressure, putting me in 30’s. Took stock and put some goals in mind for the race. Paul Goodison, Beijing gold medalist, was a few boats in front of me. Knew if I could just hang with him I would catch up some. Passed him on the run and some others. Had the perfect lane. Tom Slingsby was three boats ahead now. Just needed stay with him and would, for sure, catch up. Wind built to 13knots now. Hiked as hard as I could knowing this could well be the last Laser race of my career. Finished. A few behind Slingsby and closed to 17th, I believe.

I left nothing on the table and am holding my head high from how far I’ve come since January. It’s been an honor to work with Arthur Brett. He is a wise man, who coaches with egoless eyes, has tremendous passion for sport, and has helped change and shape me as a person to be the fighter that I am now and the better sailor. Taking the grand-picture-of-life perspective is the best recipe for coping with the emotions of not making the Olympic spot. And being a veteran of the Olympic sailing life, it’s now the journey of what I do with myself in the future that in the end matters, not the ‘being compared to others’. They are all just parts of one’s self floating in Mother Nature’s soup of what we call sailing.

I am in a good place. Yes, I have waves of ‘what if ?’ but after writing all this, I’m moving on to bigger and better things like A-cats, match racing my wife, big boats, moth sailing, and being happy with the sport I love! I’m out.

Thank you to all my sponsors: Handy Storage, Zhik, Kaenon, Almaco, to you, my readers, and particularly my parents, for always supporting my Olympic dream and journey.

See you on the water,