RSA 470 Olympic Team Taking on the World

Roger Hudson on Trapeze and Asenathi Jim at the helm during training off Cape Town.

Roger Hudson on Trapeze and Asenathi Jim at the helm during training off Cape Town.

Our South African Olympic team of Roger Hudson and Asenathi Jim are preparing for the 470 World Championship which begin on Saturday 20 February.

Ranked 20th in the World in the 470 class, this event is key preparation for this pairing as they build up to the Olympic Games in Rio in August.

The worlds will be raced on the waters off Club Nautico in San Isidro, a province just north of Buenos Aires.

Whilst the biggest focus in 2016 is undoubtedly the Olympic Games, success at the 470 World Championships and securing a podium finish in this final countdown to Rio is equally key. Teams are drilling into their final weeks of training, maximising strengths and reducing weaknesses.

Racing a World Championships has a different pressure compared to the Olympics, but the quest for gold is no doubt tougher with more of the world’s top teams in contention in San Isidro than will be on the starting line in Rio. Teamwork and intelligence wins a 470 World Championship and the week ahead will be a masterclass of sailing skills.

After registration and equipment inspection, the race programme features eleven fleet races and one medal race over six days of racing, from 22-27 February.

Below is an interview with Roger Hudson after the last event he and Asenathi Jim competed in – the Miami World Cup just a few weeks ago.

You started out with a race win – can you tell me a bit about that race and how it felt making such a great start?

It felt great to start the Miami World Cup event and the 2016 Olympic circuit season with a race win. We basically managed to execute our strategy of working the right side of the first upwind leg which got us to the first mark in second place behind the Chilean. We stuck with him on the first downwind leg and then made a tactical attack to the right of him on the second upwind and got through for the lead at the second upwind mark. On the second downwind leg we had good pace and extended away from the Chilean and the chasing pack to win the race fairly comfortably.

You had some good races after that but unfortunately the finish wasn’t what, I’m sure, you wanted – what happened?

Yes, our overall result was brought down by inconsistency, no question about it. We said going into the event that we would be satisfied with a top 10, happy with a top 5 and delighted with a medal. Looking back on the event I’d say we had the pace and skills for a top 5 result and our best races demonstrated this. The reason we didn’t finish top 5 was primarily on account of a few big mistakes, which really cost us, specifically two OCS starts (over the start line early, effectively DSQ’s) and a very poor final race where we made a major tactical error within the first minute of the start which put us in a position that we very hard to recover from. I think that the reasons behind these mistakes was that we were a little ring-rusty not having raced on the international circuit since early November 2015. Our 10-week training stint at home gave us a lot of pace and fluency, especially in the big breeze, but we probably fell short in terms of the tight judgement calls needed in the typically intense Olympic circuit racing. Normally we do the pre-event in Miami which allows a bit of race-sharpening, but this year we had an important event in Cape Town at the same time, so we could only fly to Miami in time for a couple of days of training and then went straight into the event. Still, the major purpose of the event was as preparation for the upcoming World Championship in Argentina in February and to that end it was extremely valuable preparation.

What will you be changing/working on for next time?

Well, first and foremost, starting errors that lead to OCS’s (effectively DSQ’s) have got to be cut out at major events, for example the upcoming World Championship in Argentina in February. Miami is famously tricky in terms of the starts because the wind can be very light and the current can be quite strong. This means that whilst positioning in the pre-start period (5 minutes) there is a risk of being swept over the start line whilst not having enough wind power to maneuver and maintain the boat behind the line before the start gun goes. The flipside approach is to be extremely conservative in the pre-start, but starting behind the pack obviously makes the rest of the race very difficult. So starting spot on the line and with maximum pace is a massively important skill but most of all our judgement and focus on the day need to be 100%. We definitely have the starting skills, but I think our judgement and focus were a shade off at this event. So that’s what we need to look at going forward.

What positives will you be taking from this experience?

Firstly, our traditional forte is big breeze sailing, but in the 2015 season we didn’t cash-in at the major events in these conditions because of some technical deficiencies with our boat and rig set-up. We’ve worked hard with our team at solving these technical issues and we also trained very hard in the big breeze in Cape Town over the summer. When the breeze came on in Miami we were super-fast, which is great news for us.

Secondly, our good races came in a variety of conditions, for example we had a race win and a 3rd in light-wind conditions and scored a 4th and 3rd in moderate and windy conditions. We’ve worked extremely hard over the last 5 years to have an all-round game, to be strong in all conditions. So for us to be scoring good races across the spectrum is positive.

Finally, at the Miami event we had one of our key training partners, Alex Burger (19), with us in the dual role of understudy and coach/support. The effect was extremely positive on two fronts, in that Alex gave us amazing support and feedback from the coach-boat and off-the-water, and he also really learned a lot and gained a massive amount of experience. We are going to expand this concept with another key member of our training squad, Brevan Thompson (22), at the upcoming World Championship in Argentina and going forward in the 2016 season. Alex and Brevan, as well as Sibu Sizatu (24) and Taariq Jacobs (25), train with us a great deal and are very close to our Rio 2016 campaign, contributing significantly from various angles. They guys are smart, accomplished sailors for their ages, and full of potential. On top of this they have great energy and enthusiasm for the Rio 2016 campaign and the overall project.

Where do you go to from here and what’s coming up in the next few months leading up to Rio?

The next big target is the World Championship in Argentina, February 22-27. After that we have two key events in Spain in March and early April and then another major in France in late April. From May to July we will predominantly spend our time getting finely tuned in Rio at the Olympic venue.