Inside the Mindset of A Champion

I hacked my way into a Zoom call with a few of our sport’s legends: Paul Foerster, Tim Wadlow, & Anna (Tunnicliffe) Tobias, as they shared their experience and mindset from their Olympic experience.

A Brief History

Paul FOERSTER & Kevin BURNHAM (USA) : World Sailor of the Year ...Paul Foerster  has three Olympic medals (Flying Dutchman, 1992 Games with Stephen Bourdow); (470, 2000 Games with Bob Merrick); and (470, 2004 with Kevin Burnham).

Tim Wadlow descends from the ranks of skiff gods and skippered in the Men’s 49er in the 2004 with Pete Spaulding and 2008 Olympics with Chris Rast.Tim Wadlow, Chris Rast - Tim Wadlow and Chris Rast Photos ...

Anna Tobias has a gold medal in the Laser Radial from the 2008 Beijing Olympics; she returned the 2012 Games in the Elliot6m with Debbie Capozzi and Molly Vandemoer and currently completed her 49erFX campaign for the 2020 Games with Paris Henken (2016 Rio Olympics with Helena Scutt). 

Like I said, three total legends of our sport shared their experience preparing for and performing at their respective Games.

There were some recurring themes that each legend experienced that I want to share here:

Olympic campaigns are about efficiency. They are about improving at a higher rate than your competitors, which is why these athletes were strategic with how the spent their time and who they spent it with.

Paul, in the FD and 470, liked to be the first one on the water and spend at least an hour prior to the start sailing upwind and getting a feel for the breeze. Tim preferred two a day sessions in the 49er, rising early to begin and end the day on the water in 2 hours. Anna likes to lay out her daily objectives every morning and attack weaknesses in training.

“Must have training partners who can beat you.” 

Building relationships with teammates that create honest feedback loops and open communication for sharing is key. A resounding theme was finding training partners that can out sail you and help you level up. The trick here is creating an environment for growth. And also realizing that everyone has strengths in different conditions. A team that you can crush in the bay, might leave you in their wake in the open sea. Investing in training partners is crucial.

Accurate self evaluation.

You can’t solve a problem until you identify it, and we often get in our own way. In the modern era, most sailors receive a lot of coaching and outside feedback. Not so much for this past generation. Many days of training were uncoached. What do you do when you’re not getting coached ? Learn to coach yourself is an important skill. Self reflection and understanding your Strengths and Weaknesses is a good first step to take. 

As an exercise make a list of your strengths and weaknesses on the race course, and start making a plan of how you can strategically move those weaknesses to the strength column.

Never Giving Up.

Anna talked about how her experience in college sailing taught her how to campaign later in life. As freshmen, Anna began at Old Dominion University with some rockstar seniors ahead of her,”Debbie and Sally were seniors and I sailed as a heavy air crew under them for a year, it was a good ego check.”  In college, Anna recounts that she went through the highs and lows of winning and losing. 

During the first few years of her radial campaign Paige was smashing it. But Anna believed in the process. She held onto her underlying desire to be the best in the world and never has been satisfied at just being okay. She would go to the gym, or go sailing, whether she wanted to or not. Her mindset was: What can I do to be better than everybody else?

Be A Good Learner

For Tim, he decided he was going to work harder than everyone else. Tim says, ” I was always looking for opportunities to work harder. The Nirvana moment is when you’re sailing and learning. And it takes a lot to get there. When another boat is next to you and you’re battling. That’s when the learning happens.”


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