Tokyo 2020: Tight turnaround puts sailors in uncharted waters

Tokyo 2020

Five-day rule a challenge for sailors.

When the Nacra 17 sailing class got underway today, competitors were battling unfamiliar headwinds due to the Tokyo 2020 Games' restrictions on how far before an event competitors could arrive in Japan.

The "Period of Stay Guidelines" for the Tokyo Games limited the length of time sailors could spend in country ahead of the competition, familiarising themselves with local wind conditions. Despite the challenge, Australian sailors and Rio silver medalists Lisa Darmanin (Nacra 17 class) and Will Ryan (Mens 470) are maintaining a positive outlook.

The guidelines, released by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee in March this year, stated that athletes could arrive in Japan no earlier than five days before competing in their selected event, reducing the normal preparation time visiting athletes would spend in the host country ahead of the games.

Olympic sailing Rio 2016 silver medalist Darmanin, 29, explained the shorter period of stay will make the Tokyo Olympics very difficult, especially since the team wasn't able to get used to the summer conditions in Japan at all in the past year due to COVID travel regulations.

"It's not the ideal lead-in, I think I was in Rio two months before the Olympics, and we generally spent a lot of time at the venue, so not having been there [in Tokyo] for two years is a little bit scary," she said. "We've been trying to go to places where the conditions are really similar, that's why we're up in Queensland where you go straight into the ocean and there's big waves, which is what we're expecting in Japan."

Darmanin and Ryan and his partner are looking to conquer their events despite these challenges, and go one step better than the silver medals they won in Rio.

Ryan, 32, who will compete in the Mens 470 class with partner Matt Belcher, said the heat in Japan will be hard to adapt to in such a short time frame. Sailing is a very condition-based sport, he said, so it is beneficial to go as early as possible to get used to the weather and winds.

"In an ideal world, what we planned for 2020 originally, we would've been in Japan in May and a bit of June and then come back for another two or three week period where that rainy season is for a final lead into the Olympics," said Ryan. "We created different kinds of training environments with different locations and coaches to simulate different skill sets as best as you can."

As well as minimal preparation time on the water, the athletes will have only five days to adapt to a different time zone, though in Australia's case that time difference is marginal.

Carolyn Broderick, who was Deputy Medical Director for the Australian Olympic Team in Rio, said the impact of jet lag so close to competition would not have a direct physical effect on athletes, rather, a psychological one. She said the jet lag for the Aussie sailors won't be too bad this time around but could impact performance in regards to focus and skill. "There's a lot of tactical decision making in sailing, but also, it's important to have good strength and quick reaction time so all those aspects may be impacted."

She said the jet lag would also add to the already difficult sleeping conditions at the Olympics. "It's a very difficult place to sleep; first of all you're sharing a room with someone, and there's a lot of noise because there are a lot of people around, and then add into all of that the anxiety around performance and the additional anxiety around COVID," said Broderick. "All these things are going to increase athlete anxiety and make sleep very difficult, and sleep is the main recovery tool that we have."

Despite these challenges, the Australians believe Japan will do a good job in ensuring the games are safe and then the rest is up to the athletes.

"On the third of August they're handing out gold medals," said Darmanin, "and you've just got to deal with whatever gets thrown at you."


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