Never say never again
Never say never again
Lijia Xu has now retired, and as the ISAF conference draws to a close so does another year. Despite saying that I would never work for the Chinese again I decided to go and coach Lily for her final Radial regatta: the Radial World Championships in Rizhao.
Unfortunately Lily had developed a serious shoulder injury, so it was nice to be there to support her, to tape her up each day to prevent it getting any worse and I am very proud of her. She did her best in difficult circumstances and still managed a top ten in the Worlds.
She tried to race the Qingdao World cup afterwards but the injury made this impossible. Now she can have a well earned rest in her retirement - giving her body plenty of time to heal. Indeed she is now part of the ISAF Athlete's commission where I am sure she will do an amazing job, making things better for future sailors.
For me I had a pretty good year. I won the UK Nationals which I missed last year due to the Olympics. In the end it was between John Booth and myself, so in the final race I forced John into a poor start. After that he retired from the race, knowing he had second secured.
So I end 2013 back on top of the National rankings, although I made a bit of a mess of the final two regattas. In Whitstable I missed seeing the shortened course flag and sailed an extra lap in the first race which meant I missed the second race! I won both racing on the Sunday but having pretty much been absent from the racing on the first day I had a very poor result overall.
Therefore hoping to make amends I drove down to Plymouth early for the next event, to be well rested, for what looked like a windy event. However as I arrived in Plymouth Sam Barker kindly phoned me to tell me the event was cancelled, so at least I did not unpack my boat. I just hope I can give a better performance at the UK "Qualifiers" next year.
The final domestic event was the Inlands. Again an event I had to miss the year before the games, so as to spend as much time in China as possible. This was a windy affair and I was winning one race the Saturday and one on the Sunday when gusts of over 35 knots came through and caused the race to be abandoned. I won the event with a race to spare, so decided not to race in the re-sail, naughty Jon was more keen for an early shower, some hot food and a leisurely pack up!
So now I have a little break from sailing myself, although due to my coaching, I rarely have a day off the water...
A new beginning
Well I have now finished working for the Chinese Yachting Association and as I look back I see a whole host of achievements: Seeing Lijia Xu (Lily) standing on top of the podium to collect her Olympic Gold medal was the proudest day of my life, her speech as she collected ISAF World sailor of the year made me cry, and it was wonderful to end things on a high note, with Lily winning this year's Sail for Gold regatta with a day to spare. I wish her the very best for the future and I am now eagerly looking forward to new challenges for myself.
No sooner had I dropped Lily at the airport to return to China then I was off again, this time to Warnemunde, Germany. I had a great journey and did not even have to stop at the ferry to queue. I drove straight on and I was enjoying a steak breakfast at the Brasserie as we left Dover Harbour.
Although I was a bit disappointed with sixth at the regatta plus picking up a black flag on the final day, I am clear on the things that I need to work on and for the moment I now have a little bit of time to myself.
The next stop was the UK Masters Nationals. On route I once again popped in to see Stuart Offer who has done an excellent job of keeping me going, through massage and taping. I have not had to stop sailing or coaching and I was able to give Lily my absolute best effort right to the very end.
However it was mandatory that I raced at the Masters’ Nationals. This is a qualification event for next year's Masters’ Worlds, held in Hyeres during September, and having already missed the first qualifier at Brightlingsea because it clashed with the Sail for Gold regatta I have to do all the remaining events.
I felt I sailed better here and won the event with a race to spare in very similar conditions to the German Europa Cup. I have already started to address some of my performance issues.
First things first though, and having done what I needed to do I must now concentrate on getting my health back. At the time of writing I have just had very painful cortisone injections in both my elbows, so I am feeling incredibly uncomfortable. I hope that this will remove the inflammation in my tendons (known as Golfer’s Elbow, even though I have never played golf) and I intend to take as much rest for as long as necessary before returning to the water.
Golfer's elbow (or elbows in my case) is a repetitive strain injury caused by many hours of gripping - as I spend my days either driving a RIB (gripping a wheel) or in sailing a Laser (gripping a mainsheet) or driving (again gripping a wheel). In fact I did hope to return to cycling but there is no chance of that for obvious reasons...
Ironically in the second race of the Masters’ Nationals my ratchet block untied, so I had to spend over half the race taking the mainsheet from the boom and using my foot to hold the sail out. So when I went to see the Doctor my tendons were the most painful they have been for a long time.
Now after complete rest and icing I am starting to feel a little more comfortable, so fingers crossed I continue to improve and will be back on the water before too long.
Lijia Xu returns
Well after a few days rest at home (which included a trip to Brighton hospital for a guided Cortisone injection in my left shoulder) it was back out to Holland to meet Lily (Lijia Xu) and her team mate Eko (Dongshuang Zhang). Our flights (mine from Gatwick and theirs from Shanghai) arrived at exactly the same time. So I met them at the conveyor belt at the airport! We then took the shuttle bus to collect my van, which was pretty easy to spot with the boat on the roof. Unfortunately I was not quite quick enough paying for car parking and had to pay an extra day by a couple of minutes. Next time I will run!
We spent the first night in a very nice hotel, as the bungalow accommodation we had was not available until the next day. Unfortunately due to a boiler problem we ended up changing bungalows, so during the event we ended up having three separate accommodations which was far from ideal. We were unable to find a convenient place to do physical training but on the up side Lily did arrive a few days before the regatta - so this time we were much better prepared - which showed in the results. Making the medal race was really good and straight after we packed the container and all piled into my van to drive home (to Weymouth). We really wasted no time and were able to start training the very next day.
So for Sail for Gold we were finally properly prepared and this showed in the results, with Lily and Eko taking 1st and 2nd place in the first five races and securing Gold and Silver overall with a day to spare. More than that, we have been able to find clear goals for the next months training, focusing on weaknesses, as well as stepping up the physical training. I spent the month living in the same house as my sailors and the relaxed atmosphere really helped the quality of the training.
Of course Lily is still busy and missed prize giving at Sail for Gold as she had a public appearance to make with the King of Greece, competing in a classic yacht regatta, but there is no rush to do the debrief and a break really can be a good thing, as long as it is at the right time. Our focus now is to make the most of every day that we have left in the UK.
One thing which has always really impressed me about Lily is her work ethic: she always works really hard even when she does not feel like it, so I feel my job as coach is to make sure that her training is both as efficient (not wasting any time) and as effective (getting the best possible end results) as possible. Overall she has been the easiest sailor to work with I have ever had.
Andrew 'Bart' Simpson - gone but not forgotten
In memory of Andrew 'Bart' Simpson
Well I qualified for the 2013 World Championship, and having been unable to take part in 2012 due to my Olympic commitments I am very keen to attend!
I made hard work of it, getting Black flagged on the first race of the finals at the last qualifier but I managed to hold my nerve to take two wins and the event.
I have spent most of this month in Holland. Straight after the Pwllheli qualifier which I won, I travelled over to Holland for the Dutch Masters championships.
We had a breezy event and I am pleased to say I won with the minimum score, seven first places.
Sadly it was during this event I heard of the tragic death of Double Olympic medallist and all round nice guy Andrew 'Bart' Simpson. The Dutch were so kind and asked me if I wished to place the Union flag at half mast, which I gladly did.
I think about attending many Laser events with Bart in our youth and his smile is one that I will always remember.
I just wanted to go and sail, to hike hard and try and forget the sadness of his beautiful wife and children growing up without a father but instead the wind was blowing 25 knots. Too much for us old folks, so racing was cancelled for the day, instead I ended up wandering around a model village - not what I had intended.
I am now back in the UK for another Cortizone injection in my shoulder. Even with only two or three days racing my shoulder has been extremely painful and I really hope that this will solve the problem now.
I will be spending the next three weeks resting and icing the shoulder, which will hopefully give me the recovery time which I need. Whatever happens I want to do my best to help Lijia Xu win the Worlds, which are in her home country China this year, which would be a very special achievement for her.
The first World cup event of the year
Well I now have my little routine well sorted. I attend the UKLA Radial Qualifier and head to Europe the next day. First it was Stokes Bay before going to Malcesine, now I have just done Hayling island before going to Hyeres. Then next month it is Pwllheli before going to Medemblik.
The day before the Qualifier I go and see Stuart Offer of SOS Therapy, who not only releases my muscles but then proceeds to tape me back together using Rock tape. My shoulder is now feeling much better. I had a series of Cortizone injections earlier this year which helped in the short term and I will have another one before Delta Lloyd regatta as I want to avoid surgery if at all possible, as any surgery has risks and also means a long time out of action.
Well I won the Hayling Island Qualifier and actually this is the first Qualifier I have won since I started working for the Chinese. John Booth who was second at the Le Havre Europa Cup also took second at the Qualifier. It is funny how when "you have a lot on" that things never seem to go smoothly! I was hoping for a quick get-away and stripped all the ropes and blocks off my boat ready to take to France in record time but a nail which decided to jump into my front tyre had other ideas. Many thanks to fellow Radial sailor Ben Elvin who helped me do a speedy change...
So with just a week to go before the regatta started I tried to get to Hyeres as quickly as possible: I flew to Nice (as the next flight to Toulon airport (which is actually in Hyeres, 5 minutes walk from the boat park) was on Wednesday). However when we got to Nice there was some fog so they would not land, so we went to Marseille and after sitting on the plane for a couple of hours they refuelled and we went back to Nice... just a 29 minute flight, however half way there the captain did say maybe the fog had come back. Well I did get a good view of Hyeres, as we flew over it twice!
After all that there was no need to rush as when I finally got to Hyeres Lijia Xu was taken the next day to go and watch the racing at the America's cup. So I had a pretty quiet time in France... In the end we only managed to go on the water once before the regatta started. I just have to admire how professional she is, having not been in a Radial since Weymouth...
Ultimately we felt unprepared for a regatta, our first World cup event of the year together. It is always hard to jump straight into racing if you have not done any training but I can only imagine what it must feel like to have your first experience of hiking at a World Cup event at the end of April when the last time you hiked was at the Olympics, at the beginning of August. After such a long break it must have been a huge shock to the system!
It is clearly important to see the big picture and therefore we always want to get the best quality training, to keep us moving forward in the right direction. The results are not important at the moment but what we achieve for the long term is. Therefore after a windy and wavy day's racing it seemed sensible to have a rest day. So as to sail to the best of our ability the next time we were on the water, as opposed to going on the water and simply "sailing round the buoys" to get a better overall result in the regatta.
Of course the first year of any Olympic cycle is the least important so it is nice to have somewhat of a "normal life". I am really looking forward to the Wednesday night race at Castle Cove Sailing Club, Weymouth and a good beer and chat afterwards!
Back in the UK
Well in Garda I felt a bit light (in the strong winds) and in Lugano I felt a bit heavy (in the light winds). So I guess I am just a bit rusty.
It was nice to get on the podium for the first time this year in Lugano. In Le Havre I managed one better and it was a nice feeling to win my first regatta of 2013.
Having experienced strong wind and light wind but with no tide, it was time for tide: Le Havre had a seven metre range, so I have certainly had a range of experiences.
I am now back in the UK to race at the Radial Qualifier in Hayling Island to hopefully secure myself a place for the Radial World Championship. The good thing about the UKLA qualifier system is it is a first past the post system, you have to turn up, whoever you are.
I feel that a break was absolutely what I needed to recover mentally as much as anything.
My father died from Motor Neurone Disease last year shortly after the Worlds. It was as if he waited for me to come back from Germany, so I could say I loved him one final time before he passed away.
He actually died on his 42nd wedding anniversary but I had no time to grieve, I buried his ashes just over a week afterwards on his birthday on Imberhorne Farm (where I grew up and he farmed for 50 odd years) in a special wood he planted to mark the Millennium, and placed a red chestnut tree over the top. I just wished he had had the opportunity to see Lijia Xu's Olympic Gold medal.
The very next day I was back on the water with Xu, I wanted to do everything humanly possible to give her the best chance of the Olympic Gold medal, and I know it is what my Father would have wanted me to do.
So since the Olympics I have had some quiet time, with friends and family and most importantly my Mum whom I took on holiday, just the two of us.
Now the desire to get back on the Olympic circuit is slowly coming back. The day after Hayling Island I am straight back on a plane, heading back out to France again, this time to Hyeres World Cup event to start working with Xu for the first time since the Olympics.
Everything is all packed and ready to go. A new radio (Icom D91 which is noise cancelling and has GPS), waterproof video camera (Panasonic TS 5) which also takes excellent pictures, life jacket (Spinlock deck vest) and most importantly of all, Neil Pryde jacket and trousers to keep me nice and warm. I feel I am properly kitted out for the season!
Looking forward to 2013
Well I have had a big break from full time coaching; everyone needs some down time even if it is just to reflect on what the next step is. I feel I want to be fully equipped before returning to the World Cup circuit with Lijia Xu.
The start of the UK domestic season is always the Dinghy Show. I have now been the UKLA (UK Laser Association)Training Officer for 6 years and I am always trying to do something for the membership. I would love it if every Laser sailor was a member of the class association but sadly this is far from the case.
This year I put together a DVD with help from WeWow which featured sixteen little training clips. I took my Laser up to Alexandra Palace and anyone who joined on the day got the video to take home with them. It is always nice to chat to old members and meet new ones.
So after the Dinghy show it was back to racing. Boy, I feel more than a little rusty but a respectable result at the Stokes Bay World Qualifier means that I should have no problem qualifying for the World championships later this year.
I have also been working closely with Stuart Offer from SOS therapy who has been helping me with my shoulder, which is still causing me problems. Stuart has been using Rocktape to good effect, although I do feel now that I am held together with tape.
It has really been a busy time, I even managed to squeeze in doing one last club talk which finished less than an hour from when my ferry to the continent left. My first stop was Italy for some strong wind action. Not a dazzling performance but I feel with every race I am getting sharper. For me being a sharper racer really helps my coaching skills.
The next stop will be Switzerland, where we usually have light airs so I can expect to work on a range of skill sets.
Looking back at 2012
Well what a year 2012 was. An Olympic Gold medal and World Sailor of the Year for Lijia Xu. For me it was both an honour and a privilege working with such a talented and hard working individual.
However now I feel it’s time to take a break from the sport I love. The UK season really kicks off with the Dinghy Exhibition at Alexandra Palace in March and I will be there in my capacity as the Training Officer for the UK class association to answer any questions people have about Lasers, the class or just for a quick chat with old friends. So this seems a good a time as any to get back into things.
So as not to have too long off the water I kept sailing right up to the end of the year. This gave me a good excuse to go to Sydney. I was really looking forward to going in 2011 with the Chinese team but we pulled out at the last minute.
Sail Sydney was a huge regatta with 491 entries (making it the largest regatta in Australia last year). The organisers are actually having a bet they can get over 500 entries in 2013.
I just loved the atmosphere in Sydney. I have never caught a ferry to go to the sailing club before. Although those said ferries did make the racing somewhat interesting at times and it was without doubt the choppiest waters I have ever sailed on, Stokes Bay doesn't even come close!
I was really pleased to win the regatta. Actually I thought I had won with a race to spare but I decided to stay out and do the last race as the conditions were idyllic and it was very lucky I did as it turns out that I was Black flagged in the penultimate race! Luckily I won the last race and the regatta.
It was great to be a tourist and I loved climbing the Sydney Bridge. I must also give a very special thank you to my good friends Mel and Heath Warman who looked after me tremendously well and helped me decompress after a very manic year.
I was back in the UK in time for Christmas and to spend much needed time with my family. I managed to sail at Weir Wood a couple of times and catch up with sailing friends and I also did the Grafham Grand Prix on December 30th where I finished second (scoring 1st and 2nd in a two race series), so I really did sail right up to the end of the year.
I am now decluttering my life and I sold my two older boats (I originally had four boats as I thought that I was chartering them out to the Chinese team before they realised that it would be cheaper for them to container their own equipment across). Although I couldn't help but take them out for one last sail, just to make sure everything was all working properly!
It makes me think ahead, about Rio and what it can bring. Certainly in the last campaign there were things that I would have liked to have changed and this is true of any campaign. Whether as a sailor or a coach we are all looking for that perfect regatta. This is also my time to recover both physically (I need to manage long term shoulder and back injuries for which I am having cortisone injections and visiting the Weymouth Pilates centre) as well as mentally (just having fun times with the people I love).
I look forward to 2013 and the new challenges that a new year will bring.
Jon Emmett has over 20 years of coaching experience from grass roots to Olympic Gold.