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Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea on their 49erFX campaign for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

by David Schmidt 13 Nov 2019 08:00 PST November 13, 2019
U.S. Women's 49erFX, Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

When it comes to One Design sailing, Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea are a powerhouse team that’s been racing together—and against each other—for 15 years on waters ranging from Midwestern freshwater lakes to the salty brine off of Enoshima, Japan. While Roble has a world championship title and four national titles to her credit, Shea has also racked up four national titles. Most recently, these talented sailors have turned their attention to representing the USA in 49erFX at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (July 24-August 9, 2020).

To date, their top 49erFX results include a first-place finish at 2018 the Midwinter Championship, a second-place finish at this same regatta in 2019, a third-place finish at the Sailing World Cup Genoa 2019, and a fifth at the 2018 European Championships.

I checked in with Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea, via email, about their campaign to represent the USA in 49erFX at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Can you give us an update on where you are in your training process, en route to Tokyo 2020?

We have been sailing together full-time since the fall of 2016, and we’re super proud of where we are three years later. Each year has had a different focus for us.

In 2016 and 2017, our priority was learning the boat for Steph and working on boathandling as a team. 2018 was spent learning about skiff racing. This year, we worked on refining our speed and high-level racing strategy.

Right now, we are in our final prep for the 2019 World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand which is also the start of our Olympic Trials.

How are you feeling about your speed, tactics and boat handling after this summer’s regattas in Japan?

Japan is an interesting venue because you can have a wide variety of conditions. We have seen everything from an offshore breeze with flat water, 12-16 knots onshore sea breeze with small sea state, to post-typhoon conditions with gnarly sea state.

This summer we improved our upwind speed, especially in the mid-range conditions, and that showed in our results at the Test Event. Tactics, especially in offshore conditions, have always been a strength of ours. We spend a lot of time in practice polishing our boat handling, so we are also proud of that. However, we need to work through some kinks in the big waves!

If there’s one aspect of your game that you think needs polishing, what would it be and why?

Long term, we need to spend more time in big waves and work on our downwind technique. Experience is so important in these conditions, and we just don’t have it as a team yet.

Right now, we are working on executing our acceleration off the starting line, as well as time and distance.

Is there one part of your game that you feel especially solid about? And if so, are you still working to evolve this aspect of your campaign, or do you feel that these skills are now ready for the Olympics?

Everyone at the Olympics is going to be at the top of their game, so the best advantage we can have is mental toughness from the right mindsets and attitudes. Competing in two back-to-back World Championships in December and February will be a great opportunity to hone these skills.

We feel especially solid with our team dynamic. Because we have spent so much time together and with our coach, Giulia Conti, we have grown a lot to understand each other and work together on a really professional level.

Do you guys have a preferred set of conditions? If so, what are they and what are you doing to train up your skills in your less-desired conditions?

SR: Growing up on a small lake in the Midwest, I definitely love the high tempo, shifty, offshore conditions. That being said, we don’t pray for certain conditions over others because we believe we can show up and perform in anything.

How much has the 49er FX fleet evolved in terms of skills and speeds in the time that you have been competing in the class? And based on this same trajectory, what kinds of competition levels are you expecting next summer?

SR: Maggie has been sailing in the class since 2013 and has seen the most change. Most noticeably in the boathandling, especially in breeze. Racing in steady conditions is extremely tight in our fleet. A small change in precise boathandling can make the difference between rounding the top mark in second or 12th.

MS: I am very impressed by the improvement. The fleet is stronger, faster, and tougher. Most teams are now veterans of six or eight years, and the top of the fleet continues to get tighter. I expect the fleet to continue to grow, and we need to keep our minds open to new ideas and techniques. There is still a lot to learn about the 49erFX, so the teams that constantly innovate will win.

What do you see as your most valuable training experiences over the past year, and what made these experiences so valuable as you prepare for Tokyo?

It’s really hard to pinpoint one experience, because every opportunity is so unique. We’ve had a pretty interesting year with our results. We earned our first World Cup podium finish in Genoa and then immediately after, [we] had our toughest regatta of the year at the Europeans.

This caused us to take a deep look in the mirror about physical and mental weaknesses in our game. We also had some really great training in Japan in July. With a four-day training regatta that featured 20 solid teams, we got to experience the venue on and off the water and focus on some things specific to big-fleet racing in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

It takes a massive budget to run a professional program, so our campaign isn’t possible without the village of people who support us. We would like to extend a huge thank you to our title sponsor Kilroy Realty, our supporters from Lake Beulah Yacht Club, Chicago Yacht Club, Chicago Match Race Center, and all of our individual donors.

If you would like to make a donation, please visit our website www.RobleSheaSailing.com. We hope you will join us on our journey to Tokyo 2020 on social media @RobleSheaSailing.

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