Pedro Pascual competes in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Marina da Gloria on Aug. 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.
Pedro Pascual had only been windsurfing for eight years when he made his Olympic debut in 2016 at the age of 20.
He wasn’t expected to hang with the medal contenders, and that was OK. He wasn’t planning on it being his last Olympic Games.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his moment in the spotlight, however.
Do an image search of Team USA marching into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio for the Opening Ceremony and you’ll see Pascual front and center, just a few feet to the right of flag bearer Michael Phelps.
“I’m in all the photos,” said Pascual, who credits US Sailing teammate Joe Morris for convincing him they should try to work their way up to the front row. “The kid on the right, that’s me. My family emailed me all the pictures after that. My grandfather was watching it on TV and told me he saw me.”
Pascual and his family are now based in Memphis, Tennessee, but it was because of his grandparents that he’s grown up having a very international experience.
Pascual’s maternal grandfather is American and served most of his life in the U.S. Navy. He fell in love with a Spanish woman, married, and Pascual’s mother, Monica Maria Suitt, was born on a U.S. military base in Spain. The family lived in Spain for most of their lives, and his mother married a Spanish man, Alberto Pascual.
“So that’s why half the family is from the U.S. and half is from Spain so I’ve moved quite a lot,” he said. “It’s hard to say where home was.”
Pascual’s father is an industrial engineer and they were living in Cordoba, Mexico, when he was born. He grew up primarily in Spain, however, where he first started sailing at the age of 8. His first lessons were in the Optis boat, but that wasn’t his speed.
“I didn’t really like it, it was too slow,” he said. “But when I was 12, I started windsurfing with my dad. Ever since it’s been nonstop.”
After Pascual’s dad took a job in Saudi Arabia when he was 14 or 15, he said, the family moved to the Middle Eastern country, where he enrolled in an American high school, the American International School of Jeddah on the western coast of the country along the Red Sea.
“That was also interesting,” he said of living in Saudi Arabia. “It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be, to be honest. There were a lot of things going on in the Middle East related to war, and my parents had to have translators. But it’s definitely a lot better than people think it is.”
From there, Pascual made his move to the United States. He enrolled at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton studying mechanical engineering and began training to make the Olympic team. He joined the U.S. Sailing team in 2016 and qualified via points for the spot in Rio at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in, ironically, Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
“I remember just the feeling when I knew I qualified and I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” said Pascual, who finished 28th in Rio. “All the work and all the effort were paying off and it was great. I was 20 years old at the time and I didn’t have any medal possibilities, to be honest. I just went to enjoy the experience.”
After Pascual’s father finished a project in Saudi Arabia building a high-speed train that joins two cities, Pascual said, he was offered a job at in Memphis at a company where they process rice, pasta and other foods.
“He’s in charge of the factory and he’s loving it,” he said. “We’re all happy here in the U.S. and really enjoying it.”
Pascual qualified for his second Olympics back in February. Having that spot nailed down has been a relief with the postponement of the Games and competition worldwide being so filled with uncertainty.
Next summer will be the last time that the RS:X equipment will be used in the Olympics. For Paris in 2024, the sport will make the switch to the iQFoil.
“So the board isn’t touching the water,” he said. “It’s the same concept but more modern and faster. You’re going a lot faster on a foil so every little mistake costs a lot more. It’s still evolving and I think it’s the future of windsurfing.”
After Tokyo, Pascual said, he’ll likely start spending more time on the foil to see if a run at a third Olympics might be in his future. For now, however, he’s focused on getting ready for 2021 and trying to become the first U.S. man to medal in windsurfing at the Olympics since Mike Gebhardt won silver in 1992.
“It’s been my goal for more than half my life,” he said. “It’s my dream and just thinking about that, it would mean the world to me and my family who’ve all supported me. I don’t even know what it would feel like, but I definitely want to find out.”