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Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle feel ready

by Jon Kuiperij, Beaver Sports Editor on 27 Jul 2008
Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle (CAN) whom came second overall in the 2008 Tornado World Champions Richard Gladwell
Canadians Oskar Johansson, a 31-year-old Oaksville sailor, preparing for his second -- and perhaps final Olympic Games, is confident that he and partner Kevin Stittle have done everything they could to challenge for a medal in Beijing.

They've scouted the Qingdao venue more than any of the competition they'll face at next month's Games. They've planned on how to cope with the possibility of encountering massive collections of algae on the water during their races. And, between the two of them, they've lost more than 30 pounds specifically for the regatta.

'Last time, I was awarded my Olympic berth pretty late in the process. I had to piece things together and it was a very exciting time, but I didn't have time to do my research and know exactly what to expect,' Johansson said Thursday evening at the Oakville Yacht Squadron (OYS), his childhood club that threw a fundraising night for the two sailors. 'I think I sailed that event a little bit differently than I would normally sail a regatta.'

Johansson and then-partner John Curtis finished 15th in the Tornado class at the 2004 Games in Athens. Johansson joined forces with Stittle the following year, following Curtis' retirement from the sport.

The team has enjoyed immediate success, winning the North American championship each of the past two years and claiming silver at the world championships earlier this year. Johansson and Stittle are currently ranked sixth in the world by the International Sailing Federation.

Johansson said Stittle's dedication to the sport was a major factor in selecting the Orangeville native as a teammate. This will be Stittle's first Olympic experience, following a couple of near-misses in the past.

'Proposing to someone who has already done two Olympic cycles, that says a lot about his dedication. Especially not being able to go to two Olympics, winning trials but missing the standard by one each time, it says a lot about his character,' Johansson said. 'Even before knowing him, in my mind he was the right choice. I think our results have proven it.'

Stittle said Johansson's engineering background has been an asset on the water, but that their similar upbringings -- even their experiences playing hockey -- have fostered a compatibility that can be crucial.

'We both came from the same line of backgrounds, and that helped a lot with the team,' Stittle said. 'Oddly enough, I think it was our hockey backgrounds that helped a lot. It was a team sport I'd played in the past, and had I not had those kinds of experiences with teamwork, it might have been harder for me to work as a unit.'

Johansson played in the Provincial Junior A Hockey League, including a stint with the Oakville Blades, and was considering playing hockey at Queen's University before focusing solely on sailing.

'If the team works well and the chemistry is right, you can accomplish a lot more than you can do on your own,' Johansson said.

This is likely Johansson's last chance at an Olympic medal, knowing that the Tornado class almost certainly will not be contested at the 2012 Games, if ever again. The International Olympic Committee demanded last year that the sport reduce its medal events from 11 to 10, and the Tornado class was the odd one out.

Johansson, who will get married later this year, said it would be nearly impossible for him to change to a different class and be able to compete at the international level in four years.

'To start fresh in a new class and try to get up to the international level takes four years, even with my experience now,' he said. 'It's not really fair when you have someone more significant in your life and you're ready to move on and start a family, especially when you're not making money at this. Kevin and I are just starting to hit our stride as a team, and there's not really another boat Kevin and I could sail together, so we would have to start with new teams.

'It's sad (Tornado will be discontinued) because it's probably a result of Canada not voting for it (to stay in the Games),' he continued. 'When your country votes against you in the midst of a campaign where you're giving up all these years of your life, it's pretty hard to accept. It has lit the fire within.'

Johansson took advantage of Thursday's fundraiser, titled 'Oskar Night', to interact with the youth that graduated from the club's sailing school that day. He and Stittle autographed photographs, T-shirts and other memorabilia, and the night's attendees signed a good-luck banner for the two sailors.

Through raffle tickets, a live auction and a silent auction, the OYS managed to raise $11,668 for the Olympic-bound sailors -- money that will be used for new sails (jib, mainsail and spinnaker) to use in Beijing.

'The sailing school here puts 250 kids a year through our programs, and they all grow up to love sailing. Many of them grow up to compete, and every little while one of them does something really terrific. Oskar is the guy who will represent us at the Olympic Summer Games, and we take a lot of pride in that,' said OYS commodore Murray Fischer.

'When somebody accomplishes something great in (the sport), the club rallies behind them. There's a lot of support that goes into getting one of these kids to the Olympics. Emotional support from the parents (Oskar's parents, Tor and Erika, have been members of the OYS since 1974) is probably the biggest deal, and their peers help them out a lot. But, at the end of the day, they need some money too.'

Johansson and Stittle will leave for China next week. Olympic sailing competition is scheduled to begin August 9

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