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A conversation with Paris Henken about the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 1 Aug 2016
Paris Henken and Helena Scutt will represent the USA in the 49erFX at the Rio 2016 Olympics US Sailing http://www.ussailing.org
When it comes to sailing grit, Paris Henken (USA; 20) and Helena Scutt (USA; 24) have proved that they have meddle and determination far surpassing their age and Olympic experience. The teammates have been sailing the 49erFX together for the past several years, and together the go-fast girls qualified to represent the Stars & Stripes at the Rio 2016 Olympics. This dream, however, was almost cut short at the 2013 49er FX Worlds, which were held off of Marseilles, when an unavoidable collision with another boat sent Scutt-who was on the forward wire-to the hospital with a broken spine, two broken ribs and a lacerated left kidney.

For plenty of teams, this accident would have demolished all trust between skipper and crew, and for many athletes an accident of this nature would be a career-ender. Fortunately for American high-performance sailing interests, Henken and Scutt are not an average team, and Scutt has proven herself to be anything but an average athlete (or student).



Scutt committed to a serious rehabilitation program, and the two used the accident to forge a stronger and more trusting bond than the one that they had before that terrible day in 2013. Since then, the team has racked up an eighth-place finish at the 2016 Trofea SAR Princesa Sofia and a third-place finish at the Toronto 2015 PanAm Games.

The Rio 2016 Olympics will be the team’s first Games, and they are approaching Rio from a position of preparation and dedicated training. I caught up with Henken just before she and Scutt left the United States for Brazil to learn more about their training and preparations in the final months leading up to the XXXI Olympiad.



As a first-time Olympian, what aspects of the games are you most excited about?
I think the same goes for Helena when I say we are both super stoked for the opening ceremony! We both walked in the opening ceremony during the Pan American Games in Toronto, CAN and it was a truly amazing experience. The atmosphere was nothing we have experienced before, and we are both excited to see what we will wear during the ceremony as well.

What aspects of the regatta are you the most focused on in the weeks leading up to the starting guns?
There isn't one specific component [that] we are most focused on for the regatta, but we like to think about the whole process of the event. We have done lots of training in order to get where we are, and we are happy with our skills. We are excited to get on the water again to prep for the first gun, but also stay relaxed and ready!



What have you and Helena been concentrating on the most in the past two or three months?
Helena and I have been going down to Rio for two-and-half weeks every month since May. Each training camp has had a specific purpose or goal in regards to training. As we got more comfortable in the venue, we started to narrow-down on the starts and accelerations. We believe good starts are the key to performing well in each race.

What physical sailing skills do you think will be in the highest demand in Rio?
The physical sailing skills that will be in highest demand in Rio, I think, are your speed, boathandling, and tactics/strategy. If you break each race down, those three components, if done well, make up a winning race. Its hard to pinpoint a specific skill that will be in highest demand as everyone will be trying to perform their best and probably showcasing every skill they have to the best of their ability.



What about mental skills? What do you think will be necessary to stand out from the fleet?
What’s unique with the event of sailing is that it's so long. Our racing consists of four scheduled racing days, with three races a day, and being able to stay focused and fresh each day and each race is important. You will notice by the end of the regatta or sometimes when we have a long day on the water the competition starts to get tired. Helena and I are mentally ready for the long days, and overall just super excited to go out there and race.

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