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An interview with Sarah Douglas on her preparations for her first Olympic Games

by David Schmidt 25 May 2021 08:00 PDT May 25, 2021
Sarah Douglas - Ready Steady Tokyo Olympic Test Event © Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

If you follow Olympic class racing, it's virtually impossible not to have heard about Sarah Douglas, the 27-year-old Laser Radial sailor who hails from Toronto, Canada. Douglas began sailing Optis at age seven on warm and crystal-clear waters of Barbados, and she competed in the class' North Americans and World Championship regattas before turning 15. After aging out of the Opti, Douglas matriculated to the Laser Radial on Canada's considerably colder water and quickly hiked her way to becoming one of the country's best youth sailors.

A two-year break from competitive sailing came next, and Douglas used this time to coach youth athletics at Ashbridge's Bay Yacht Club for a couple of summers before her interests in Olympic sailing were rekindled by a fellow Canadian Olympic medalist.

Since then, Douglas has racked up a fine collection of top finishes, including a gold-medal performance at the 2019 Pan America Games, second place at the 2019 Lauderdale OCR, sixth-place at the 2018 Laser Radial Worlds, sixth place at the 2020 European Championships, and second place at the 2018 Laser Radial North Americans.

In her free time, Douglas also earned a bachelor degree in marketing management at the University of Guelph in 2017.

More recently, Douglas posted a pair of third-place finishes at the 2021 Clearwater and Lauderdale OCRs, and she took home a first-place win from the 2021 Laser Midwinters East.

I checked in with Douglas, via email, to learn more about her preparations ahead of her first Olympic Games.

What has been the hardest part of your journey to the Tokyo Olympics—the racing/qualifications process or the really long wait?

The hardest part of the journey to the Tokyo Olympics is the training through a pandemic with all of the disruptions, uncertainty and travel restrictions. I was away from home for seven months as getting on the water this winter was the priority and that can take its toll.

The saying goes that if one constantly sharpens a knife, the blade will eventually dull. How are you managing your campaign so that your boatspeed and racecourse smarts don't suffer as a result of the the COVID-induced Olympic postponement?

This year, I have actually had the most on water training days ever. I am confident in my boatspeed and [my] ability to get around the course. I have maximized my days away and competed when I could.

When do you plan to travel to Japan and begin sailing off of Enoshima? Also, how much experience do you have sailing on these waters?

I'll be travelling to Japan on July 12 to arrive for the opening of the sailing satellite village. I'll start sailing a couple of days after that once my boat is finished with the branding requirements.

I have sailed in Enoshima three times, one training camp and two competitions. I have a pretty good understanding on what we can get in Japan, and the biggest challenge will be dealing with the extreme heat of a Japanese summer.

What do you see as your biggest strengths going into the Games? Also, what do you plan to do to further bolster these strengths before the starting guns begin sounding?

I believe my mindset is my biggest strength going into the Games. It's my first Olympics and I view myself as a bit of an underdog with not a lot of pressure to perform.

I plan on continuing to prepare to the best of my ability and to approach the starting line with confidence in my preparation and my ability sail my best.

What do you see as your biggest weaknesses going into the Olympics, and what are you doing in the remaining two-plus months to address any soft spots?

I need to continue to work on downwind speed in swell as I can be off the pace in that condition. Outside of sailing, staying mentally strong with the isolation and COVID protocols that this Olympics will demand will be very important for performance at the Games.

Can you give us a description in a typical week in the life of an Olympic Laser Radial a few months before the Games? What does your training look like, and what's your typical breakdown of gym time and sailing time?

My last two months before the Games I will be training at home, I will be heading to the Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario two to three times a week in the morning to do workouts with my strength and conditioning coach and spend time in the climate room for heat acclimation.

The other mornings will be heading out on my road bike for more endurance workouts. In the afternoons I'll be sailing out of Ashbridge's Bay Yacht Club four or five times a week.

There's also a balance of personal time with friends and family.

What aspects of the Olympic Games are you most excited about?

I'm most excited to represent Canada in my first Olympic Games, there's something special about putting up your sail and putting on your jersey with the Canadian flag.

What are your personal goals for your first Olympic Games?

I want to win an Olympic medal for Canada; preferably Gold! I will approach the Games with an open mindset and trust the process that we have worked on for the last five years that will allow me to perform at my best.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

I just want to add that it takes a village, and I can't thank people enough for the support they have given me over the years. This has been the most mentally difficult year and I wouldn't have gotten though it without the support from my team and community.

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