Please select your home edition
Edition
Henri-Lloyd 2021 M-PRO PURE BLACK - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Charlie Buckingham on his Laser campaign for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics

by David Schmidt 15 Dec 2020 08:00 PST December 15, 2020
US Sailing Team Athlete Charlie Buckingham © US Sailing Team

For US Sailing team member and soon-to-be two-time Olympian Charlie Buckingham, the road to the Games has been a long one. The 31-year-old graduate of Georgetown University started sailing at age eight at Newport Harbor Yacht Club, but his quest for an Olympic medal got serious after he watched the Laser racing unfurl at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

After years of hard work, Buckingham realized a piece of this dream when he represented the USA in the Laser class at the Rio 2016 Olympics, finishing in 11th place overall.

More recently, he took home a bronze medal in the Laser class from the 2017 Sailing World Cup, and he was making progress towards representing the USA again at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics when the decision was made to postpone the Games until 2021. As was the case for all other athletes who have worked hard for years to represent their country in their chosen sport and who have trained for years to reach peak performance at a very specific time, this postponement posed unexpected challenges, as well as opportunities.

I checked in with Buckingham, via email, to learn more about his campaign and how he's adjusted his training in light of the pandemic.

What was it like for when you heard that the 2020 Games shifted to the 2021 Games? Was this a psychological set-back or an opportunity to get faster?

To be honest, it was relieving.

The month between the conclusion of the trials and the postponement of the Games was full of uncertainty, so to have the Games postponed gave us time to process everything that had happened and move forward with a new plan.

Overall, my coach and I saw the postponement as an opportunity to keep getting better.

Can you give us an overview of what your 2020 has looked like from a sailing perspective? How have you trained this year, and how does that compare to your 2019 program?

This year was very different than a normal season because I was home from March until mid-July instead of spending those months in Europe competing like we'd originally planned. With limited options to move around, I focused on physical training and sailing with either two boats or sometimes alone at home.

In mid-July I received an opportunity to travel to Europe and jumped on it.

Despite the ongoing pandemic and uncertainty around the events I was planning to do over there, I felt the risks were worth the potential benefits. Through doing my best to stay healthy in each location and traveling smart, I was able to get a lot of meaningful training in and competed in three events over my three-month period over there.

The trip was packed and a little tiring toward the end, but I got a lot done and I'm pretty happy with my performances, too. For the rest of 2020 I'm staying prepared at home and flexible for any good opportunities that may come up.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of 2020 as far as your Olympic training? And how have you overcome these hurdles?

The biggest challenge has been the inability to plan long term. My team and I have put ourselves in a position to stay prepared if we're in limbo but also have the flexibility to strike at opportunities when they arise. It has also been important to prioritize.

Can you walk us through a typical training day?

This is a hard question to answer for a Laser sailor. Depending on the time of the season, the volume, intensity, and duration of training changes, both on and off the water.

But training always includes a combination of strength, conditioning, sailing and recovery work.

How valuable was your time in Europe this spring and summer?

I was able to test my level against top Europeans in both training and competition for three months, so considering the circumstances of this year, the trip was extremely valuable and I'm now going into next year with a much clearer template of what needs to get done to keep improving.

It's often been said that one of the biggest hurdles facing American Olympic sailors is our geography—that it's tough to get to regattas and to find good sparing partners without living in Europe or spending large swaths of time on the Continent. Does geography create a bigger disadvantage for your team during the pandemic than what you would have faced during a regular Olympic cycle?

I don't think so. We just need to be flexible, make the most of what we have available, and do our best as a team to work together when it makes sense.

With a little bit of creativity amongst my immediate team, we were able to come up with a plan that made the most of the time and kept the ball moving forward despite the changed circumstances.

I interviewed Luther Carpenter in November and he mentioned that he's been really happy with the progress that the team has made while sailing either alone or with one or two other boats—have you found this time to be beneficial? Or, in other words, are you guys faster now than you were in December of 2019?

I can't speak on behalf of the whole team, but it's personally benefited me. Traveling to train and compete is essential, but the travel can be draining and it was nice to be in one place for an extended period of time working consistently.

[Editor's Note: A link to the Luther Carpenter interview can be found here: www.sail-world.com/news/232445/Luther-Carpenter-on-US-Olympic-preperations]

It's sometimes said that if one over sharpens a blade it will dull. Are you finding truth in that statement? And has it been hard from a physical and psychological perspective to stay in top fighting shape for an extra year? I think the extra time is an opportunity as long as it's used wisely.

I think the extra time is an opportunity as long as it's used wisely.

The test event for this Olympics was extremely hot (temperature-wise)—are you doing anything to train for the heat that you'll likely be sailing in come July/August?

The biggest thing will be to spend a lot of time in Japan in the months leading up to the games acclimatizing.

If we aren't able to travel to Japan as much as we would like, we'll do our best to mimic the temperatures in a land-training environment.

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

I'd like to thank my family, friends, and sponsor, West Coast University, for the support during this unusual year, and continued support through to Tokyo. I can't wait for the Olympics next year!

Related Articles

Linda Ambrose and Marty McKenna on the J/70 NAs
Linda Ambrose and Marty McKenna on the 2021 J/70 North American Championship I checked in with Linda Ambrose, who serves as the AYC's Harborside Director, and Marty McKenna, who serves as the regatta's event chair, via email, to learn more about this exciting championship-level One Design regatta. Posted on 6 May
In conversation with Jelte Liebrand
The tech-savvy navigation entrepreneur savvy navvy is the boating app that puts all your essential marine information in one place: tidal graphs, weather forecasts, automatically updated chart data, routing, GPS tracking, marina information and more. We spoke to founder Jelte Liebrand... Posted on 6 May
Gladwell's Line: Pressing ignition on pro-sailing
The sail racing world is spluttering back into life after over 12 months of being hostage by COVID The sail racing world is spluttering back into life after over 12 months of being hostage to the COVID pandemic - here's a look at how SailGP and the America's Cup coped, plus the 2024 Olympic event quandary. Posted on 6 May
How terribly fitting - ISOLAtion
And such good use of time, too! As a word, ISOLA could mean a lot of things And such good use of time, too! Now as a word, ISOLA could mean a lot of things. Obviously there's ‘island' in Italian, and it's also a girl's name as well, which are all very fitting when it comes to boats... Posted on 5 May
Steve Bourdow on the 2021 Moore 24 Nationals
An interview with Steve Bourdow on the 2021 Moore 24 Nationals I checked in with Steve Bourdow, who serves as fleet captain of the Southern California Moore 24 class, via email, to learn more about the 2021 Moore 24 Nationals (May 7-9), which are being hosted by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club. Posted on 4 May
Alternate reality
Is the Paris 2024 10th medal hammering a square peg in a round hole? This time 40 years ago the drummer Nick Mason released an album called Fictitious Sports. As with his band Pink Floyd, Hipgnosis were called upon for the album art, creating the image you see above, which seemed apt as an intro for this editorial. Posted on 3 May
SailGP news, TOR goes green, and new IMOCA rules
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA The weather may have been cold and rainy for the Seattle Yacht Club's Protection Island Race this past Saturday on Puget Sound, but things were fortunately warmer in Bermuda, where sailing unfurled for the first event in the 2021 SailGP season. Posted on 27 Apr
SailGP season opener serves and frustrates
Incredible logistics and technology needs a little honing I take my hat off to the logistics team that the event happened at all. With a lockdown in Bermuda and the general difficulties in travel, getting eight international teams and the paraphernalia to a small island in the North Atlantic was no mean feat. Posted on 26 Apr
52 pick up
Somebody only gets you the once. Hopefully… Somebody only gets you the once. Hopefully… Where the playing cards are held between the thumb and index finger, flexed down, and then sprayed out to a jumbled mess on the floor. Posted on 25 Apr
Sam Holliday on The Race Around's new solo class
Singlehanded and doublehanded Class 40 sailors can now get involved in the event's offshore action Thanks to a recent announcement from The Race Around, which is slated to begin in the summer of 2023, singlehanded and doublehanded Class 40 sailors can now get involved in the event's offshore action. Posted on 20 Apr
Coast Guard Foundation FOOTER 1J Composites 2020 - FOOTERVaikobi 2021 - FOOTER