Pedro Pascual competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Look at any photo of Michael Phelps carrying the U.S. flag into the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and just behind him to the left is U.S. windsurfer Pedro Pascual, along with teammate Joe Morris.
One year out from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo in 2021, Pascual dished on the experience during a video call with fellow members of the U.S. Olympic sailing team Thursday to commemorate the occasion.
“I mean, there’s not really a technique (for getting to the front),” said Pascual, who will be going to his second Olympics in Tokyo, again in the men’s RS:X class. “You just go there and make friends with the front row, whoever’s there. So we were friends with the water polo team, me and Joe, and I’m not really sure how it happened but we ended up in the first row and we’re in all the pictures. That was a goal and we made it, so it was a first step toward a good experience.”
Teammate Dave Hughes remembered watching it happen.
“He ran right by me with Joe and they just kept pushing to the front,” said Hughes, who coached in the 2012 Games and will return as an athlete in the men’s 470 class for the second time in 2021. “It was incredible. They had the guts to do it, so it was pretty good.”
Pascual credited Morris for making the push.
“I didn’t know we could get there and he told me there was no setup or anything and he convinced me,” Pascual said, “and I’m happy he did.”
The 11 sailors who’ve so far been named to the U.S. team, one year away from their own chances to move to the front of the parade of nations procession, ranged from first-timers such as Anna Weis and Riley Gibbs, who race in the Nacra 17 class, to Stu McNay (men’s 470), who will be making his fourth appearance, and Paige Railey (Laser Radial), who’ll be making her third. The athletes talked about everything from how they handle the mental aspects of the game to what they plan to eat on race morning to what it’s like being in the athlete’s village.
Charlie Buckingham will be racing the Laser for the second time at the Olympics, and he said the best part about the village in 2016 was the atmosphere.
“Everyone’s excited, everyone’s ready to compete,” he said. “Just being around all these big-name athletes. … I think the first night there we were sitting in the dining hall and Manu
Ginobili, the Argentinean basketball player, walks in and sits right next to us. Then (Spanish basketball player) Pau Gasol walks in and they say hi to each other and he sits down with Manu Ginobili. That same night (British tennis player) Andy Murray came in the dining hall. Then I was in the Team USA building getting a snack and I got in the elevator and Michael Phelps was there with his hood on and his headphones and his Phelps face getting ready for his race that day. It was a really cool experience.”
The athletes weren’t just looking back, of course, but also forward to next year. One of the things they’re preparing for is the venue. Hughes said the course at Enoshima, which is approximately 35 miles south of Tokyo’s main Olympic park (and home of the 1964 Olympic sailing events), is quite close to the marina and that there are some fishing nets in the area that can make navigation a challenge. The conditions can also be a mixed bag.
“It’s not dissimilar to Brazil in that we were all getting used to one weather pattern and the Olympics came and it was totally different,” he said. “I suppose that’s the Games. It seems every Games we’ve been a part of that’s the deal. You just have to be ready for anything.”
It’s also been “blistering hot” when they’ve been there, Railey said, and that’s coming from someone from Florida.
“You think I’d be able to handle the heat, but it is incredibly hot in Japan,” added Railey, a 2005 world champion in Laser Radial. “Besides that the people in Japan are amazing. They are so helpful. I love it. … All the different venues we’ve been to for the Games have been different. This one is a different culture, different experience and it’s pretty fun to go there and see how another country’s going to run the Olympics.”
Maggie Shea moved from Chicago to Miami to train with women’s 49erFX partner Stephanie Roble, and part of their preparation has included learning to deal with the heat when they make their Olympic debuts next year.
“The weekend I moved down there was record-breaking heat, hottest ever week in Miami, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this. This is unbelievable,’” Shea said. “But we did implement some Japan techniques.”
Mostly it centers around hydration, Roble said.
“It’s not something you just do on the water, it’s a full-time job outside of sailing and making sure when you come off the water you’re instantly rehydrating,” Roble said. “We were learning about our sweat rates and how much sweat we were losing in a typical session. We were also experimenting a little with ice baths and also having ice packs in the cooler that we put down our life jackets between drills to help cool down.”
For McNay, 2021 will likely be his last trip to the Games after making his debut in 2008. The men’s 470, in which he’ll race with Hughes for the second time after finishing fourth in 2016,
will be a mixed event in the next Olympic cycle. The interesting thing about the Games, he said, is that you want to treat your big regattas like just another practice, even though they aren’t.
“There’s so much more going on outside of what’s happening on the water, and that’s really what it is,” he said. “There’s the added interest and complexity that that is the event which you’ve specifically been tailoring your prep toward, whether that’s your mental, your physical, your technique. It’s a great opportunity to pull together what you’ve been working on, and that’s a mental challenge in and unto itself. You spend a lot of time practicing your skills and integrating your skills, and now it’s the test. But it’s a really long test and you need to go in with the attitude that you want to be better on your last day than you were on your first day.”
Interested in hearing more the U.S. sailing team? You can watch the Zoom call with all 11 athletes here.