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Price and Haseldine: Ready to rock the system

by Daniel Lane, NSWIS 10 Oct 2023 22:22 PDT
Evie and Olivia in action © Sailing Energy

Olivia Price can't help but to laugh while revealing she's known her crewmate, Evie Haseldine — who joined Price in securing a prized bronze medal for Australia at last month's World Sailing Championships in the Netherlands — since Haseldine was inside her mother's belly.

Price, 31, has known the effervescent Haseldine since she was born 20 years ago because their fathers sailed together on 16ft Skiffs for Drummoyne Sailing Club. That relationship - and their adherence to code known as 'The System' - could be the key to the incredible understanding the pair have forged since teaming up in the wake of the 2021 Covid pandemic to have a crack at next year's Paris Olympic Games.

Uncanny communication skills

Price, an Olympic silver medallist aged 31, and Haseldine, 20, have enjoyed more success over the last 18 months than rival crews, hardened by many years worth of sweat and the ocean's salty spray, could ever hope for. Besides their obvious skills, they've boiled down the 'unnatural' communicative abilities between them as a reason for their rapid ascent.

Both sailors realised there was something special about their dynamic after their first sail together a year and a half ago, which was the trial session to decide whether they'd join forces to launch an assault on the Paris Olympic Games. By the time the pair dragged their craft from the water they realised they could achieve their dreams, the first of which was completed when they won their world championships medal and secured Australia a quota spot in the 49er FX class at next year's Games.

"I've known Evie since she was in her mum's stomach," said Price with a laugh as she shared their story during the New South Wales Institute of Sport's (NSWIS) most recent staff update.

"I stopped sailing for about five years [but returned] once we had that conversation [about sailing together] 18 months ago. I wasn't really looking for anything to step back into, but what really sparked my interest was Evie's dedication, her enthusiasm for the sport, and doing whatever was required.

"She was still quite young and didn't quite know what it was going to take. But for me, I was just laughing. I'm attached on to her enthusiasm and thought, 'okay, well, maybe this is the opportunity I've been waiting for in finding someone that is so similar in the way that we communicate and are dedicated to the process and what is required to be done'."

Haseldine, who credited Price for igniting her Olympic dream the day she turned up to the Drummoyne Sailing Club to show the junior sailors her 2012 London Olympic Games silver medal, realised during the pandemic that Price was the mentor she needed to get to Paris.

"I always knew that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, but during Covid my dad said to me, 'if you're serious about this you should ask Olivia'," she recalled. "So, I approached Olivia and asked her to be my mentor, saying: 'I want to go to the Olympic Games - and I want to win'.

"Olivia was retired at this point, and she said 'well, I'll have to see you see you sailing' so we got on the boat, and I think we knew what we had was very rare in terms of being able to communicate the way we did.

"Two days later I got a call from Olivia asking, 'do you want to go to the Olympic Games, and do you want to get a medal?'."

An Olympic Journey revived

Price, who retired from sailing after a serious back injury and the disappointment of missing selection for Rio, intimated she'd been waiting for an 'Evie' to reach out to get her back in to the sport in which she became the youngest sailor to medal at an Olympics when she'd just turned 20.

"I went to the London Olympics and was lucky enough to win a silver medal there in the Match racing," she said.

"I then tried again in this class to represent Australia, but unfortunately injury, various other things, didn't fall my way and I didn't get selected for the Rio Olympics. So, I stepped away and finished my degree that had already taken me seven years, and I went to work and did other things... I found myself, or whatever you want to call it.

"But then I think at the period of lockdown, watching the Tokyo Olympics on the TV, working from home - I work in marketing - and I was just like, 'okay, maybe there's something else I'd like to do in the short term'.

"Everything just fell into place with Evie getting in touch with me. I'm excited that I've got another opportunity to give it absolutely everything, because [not only is] someone probably more dedicated than even I am, but we really work well together.

The pair - whose bronze medal at the World Championships represents Australia's best result in the 49erFX class - are continuing to build on the "unnatural" communicative skills that were evident during their first sail.

A winning dynamic

"I think the dynamic that we have is, you know, we feed off each other very well," said Price. "We like hanging out together. It's quite uncommon for sailors to hang out together and live together while overseas... so we actually like spending time together.

"It's natural and is a huge benefit when it comes to having the hard conversations in whether that be performance, psychology or an on-water debrief and just trying to figure out what's going on. We're willing to have those conversations and go, 'okay, this is my opinion, this is your opinion, this is what the data says, so, at the end of the day the boat wants this to happen'.

"That is probably the biggest positive we have is our relationship - and it stemmed from our dads actually sailing together, which was kind of cool!"

For Haseldine, who represented Australia at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aries, among the many lessons she's taken from Price is the value of respecting 'The System' - and while she doesn't say it, it was obvious to many at the NSWIS Update that Price, the Olympic silver medallist and now mentor, wholeheartedly values the opinions, the energy, and worth of her younger crewmate.

"A training session is a lot of expenditure of energy, and it's also a lot of mental energy," said Haseldine. "The thing that we have in sailing is that there's so many variables, you know, the wind, your boat, the set up.

"We really need to try and control the controllables because there's too many variables to try and control. And so, the first thing to be able to achieve that communication [that's required] is to be talking to each other on a logical level.

Respecting the system

"As soon as we start to talk to each other emotionally, that's it, we're not solving problems anymore. And the training session must be used very effectively and efficiently. And that communication came through a structure Olivia developed at the 2012 London Games that her coach and her team of three called 'the System'.

"Basically, the system is you know yourself, the boat and your partner and making everything operate. And so, when we're on the water and something happens- or we start talking to each other in an emotional way - we say 'RECALIBRATE' to one another. Recalibrate...

"That's to say, 'alright, that's enough' and [figure out] the next thing that's going to happen in the environment because everything that happens within the environment decides all our other actions and our process loops. And once we establish that system with one another we stay dedicated to that system... that's when we're working at a high efficiency.

"Once 'recalibrate' is said you can't bite back and say, 'I'm trying'. 'Recalibrate' is the point you need to figure out what's going on next and forget the rest."

A golden opportunity

Haseldine said she was doing plenty of work to ensure she - and Price - would perform at their best in Paris. While desire and enthusiasm are driving her dream, Haseldine said there was also a healthy dose of gratitude.

"That communication doesn't just happen out on the water," she said. "There's a lot of hours I spend with the [sport] psychologists, and there's a lot of time that I spend talking to Olivia as a mentor and all different people I've reached out to, asking 'how do I do this?'

"I'm in such a fantastic position and have such a unique opportunity to be at an Olympic Games possibly two years after stepping on the boat. I don't want to let this go to waste."

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