by Richard Crockett
Benji Daniel and Alex Burger are by their own high standards likely to be disappointed with their Olympic Debut. They should not be, as they did everything right.
Two more decent young guys may be difficult to find, and their tender ages mask the immense ability and knowledge they have garnered in the sport of sailing. They are hot property in our sport locally, and will undoubtedly be in even more demand after their Olympic campaign.
One needs to put their performance in perspective. Alex Burger is 25, while Benji Daniel is just 20 – and was by several years the ‘baby’ of the 49er Fleet in these Olympics. Few Olympians have gone straight into the 49er class at their age, but have rather campaigned in other classes before making the massive step up to the 49er skiff. This was a conscious decision they made after winning the 2017 29er Worlds in Long Beach, California.
Their Olympic campaign plans included a lot of international competition, but COVID and travel restrictions put paid to that ideal. Their only option was to put in as much time on the water as possible in Cape Town, most often sailing against themselves with coaches Roger Hudson and Asenathi Jim being on the water with them as often as possible. But more often than not they were alone, practising their boat handling in all conditions, and building the stamina and strength to be able to sail three tough races a day. While boat speed came into their equation it’s difficult to improve on this when not sailing in the company of others. Gym work was also in the mix, with 4 or 5 hours a day alone on the water being particularly taxing when there is no training partner.
Yet they achieved a world ranking, and managed to squeeze in a few international regattas by the skin of their teeth when travel opened and dovetailed in with planned regattas – many of which were cancelled. But these are tenacious guys who know that only quality time on the water against the best in the world would improve their skills, so they found every reason to travel despite the restrictions.
So to go into the Olympic Games “under-cooked” and not disgrace themselves, will in time boost their confidence.
I can vividly recall how proud I was in two of their races when they were first across the start line – that competing alongside the best exponents of 49er skiff sailing in the world.
The race in which they sailed neck-and-neck alongside Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, 49er Gold medalists from Rio and multiple Olympic medalists and America’s Cup winners will stick in my memory for a long time. It’s a memory that will stay with them forever. Plus they will have learnt so much from those two.
And they had many up before 05H00 to follow them on the tracker and root for them!
The fact that they did not finish in single figures in any of the races, is hardly important. The fact that they duelled with the best in the world, and got the better of them at times, is important. They did make mistakes, but they will have learnt from them. They have talent, they have potential, and they have the ability to one day be at the top of this fleet. Most importantly they were not there to make up numbers or boost their egos, but to compete as best they could. Some of the top exponents of the art of 49er racing will look back at these two as a thorn in their sides at times!
Being so young they have at least three more Olympics in them, but to do that they will need to find benefactors, sponsors and more to do themselves justice and realise their full potential. I do hope that they get this opportunity.
I am proud of them – and trust that you are too?