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Seeing Gold

Seeing Gold

During her visit to the Virgin Islands for the Bitter End Yacht Club Pro-Am Regatta, Anna Tunnicliffe, Olympic Gold Medalist and 2011 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, took some time out of her packed schedule to give a presentation to sailing enthusiasts at the Royal BVI Yacht Club. Sailors young and old crowded the burgee-decorated dining room and deck to hear Anna’s talk which focused on how she reached her goal of winning a gold medal in the Laser Radial at the 2008 Olympics—a method, she assured the audience, that could be applied to accomplishing any objective.

 

Anna listed the recipe for success—training, organization, funding, networking and the four Ds: dream, desire, dedication and discipline—but most of her discourse centered on visualization, a technique that she recommended for any attempt at success. To illustrate this example, Anna had the entire audience close their eyes and picture completing a roll tack. She described the wind conditions and told us that we were being bounced by the chop then sailed us through the manoeuver—switching from one side of the boat to the other, moving the mast—until she asked us to open our eyes. Everyone in the room agreed they had completed the perfect roll tack, even me, and I can barely sail.

At a photo opportunity at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Anna said she was standing beside President Bush who said to her, “Now go win a gold medal,” to which she replied, “I will.” She then realized that she had to keep her promise. “I just told the president of the United States that I was going to win a gold medal, so I’ve got to do it,” she had said to herself at the time. Anna informed the audience at RBVIYC that every morning before racing began at the Olympics, she envisioned her day of sailing. She’d picture the courses, conditions and competitors and how she would perform in order to win the gold. And she did win the gold, without ever winning a race. She said, “I had top scores and the most consistent scores,” and she credited the consistency, in part, to her visualization methods.

But imagining her success wasn’t the only way she won the gold. She also followed her instincts. In a close call in the last race, she and one other boat decided to go left when the rest of the fleet went right—this decision switched her from ninth place to second in the final race—guaranteeing her the gold medal.

 

While she stressed the importance of seeing, believing and relaxing through visualization, Anna does not underestimate the value of dedicated training. With a new goal of the 2012 Olympics in London in her sights, Anna trains every day from 7:30am to 10:30pm, including four to six hours on the water practicing speed, boat handling, plays, and sailing as a team. She hopes to be helming in the women’s match racing category in London. Her website, annatunnicliffe.com, states that she has switched to match racing “because of the intense pressure before, during and after the start, pitching one's own tactics and wit against one other boat, rather than a fleet, and also because of working with a team on a much larger boat than the Laser Radial.” Before passing around her gold medal, Anna summed up this sentiment more casually at the Yacht Club by saying she likes match racing because she gets to “beat up on one other boat the entire time.”

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Team Maclaren, which includes Anna, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi, is currently ranked first in the world for women’s match racing, and they won the US Olympic Qualifying Trials Part One in October. They will compete in the second part of the trials in Weymouth, UK in May 2012.

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