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An interview with Nikola Girke on her 2024 Olympic Campaign

by David Schmidt 1 Apr 08:00 PDT March 29 – April 6, 2024
Nikola Girke in action aboard her iQFoil © Sailing Energy / iQfoil Class

When it comes to Olympic sailing, Canadian Nikola Girke is in an elite group of athletes who have participated in five Olympic Games. To date, Girke has represented Canada in the Women's 470 (Athens 2004), the RS:X (Beijing 2008, London 2012, Tokyo 2020), and the Nacra 17 (Rio de Janeiro 2016). Now, the West Vancouver, British Columbia-native is attempting to represent her country for a sixth Olympic quadrennial, this time in the Women's iQFoil event, which will debut at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

While Girke has high-level training and Olympic experience under her feet, she has to earn her berth to the Games.

Canadian iQFoil sailors earn their Olympic selection by posting the lowest cumulative score at the 2024 Worlds and at this week's Princess Sofia Regatta (March 29-April 6), which is unfurling on the waters off of Palma, Spain.

Girke finished in 91st place at the Worlds, besting fellow Canadian Women's iQFoil sailor Rebecca Heller, who finished in 93rd place.

While Heller has decided not to compete at the Princess Sofia Regatta, Girke still needs to earn a country spot for Canada at the Last Chance Regatta at the end of April.

And while all competing athletes are relatively new to the iQFoil, this especially holds true for Girke—a longtime windsurfer—who is still working to master the new equipment.

I checked in with Girke, via email, to learn more.

Can you please tell us a bit about your 2024 campaign and how it's going so far, compared to where you were at this same point in your previous Olympic cycles?

Well, I don't know if I could call it an Olympic campaign. I started late, like three years late (end of November 2023, [so] less than 3 months ago), and I started by taking it day-by-day - seeing how it goes.

There wasn't much official about it other than signing my intention to compete in the Canadian Olympic Trials.

I'm trying to be realistic with my goals in this challenge - and a challenge it is. I have to learn a whole new sport. In my prior Olympic cycles - the Olympic year was where I was peaking - not starting!!!

To date, what have been the biggest hurdles that you've had to overcome for this quad? Also, how or what did you do to clear those hurdles?

This "quad" for me has been less than three months. So, at the moment the biggest hurdle is still time on the board. I just haven't had enough time to get used to the new board/foiling yet.

While I was windsurf-foiling prior to jumping on the iQFoil, it was a completely different set up and I had to learn all new techniques. Time on the water, falling and getting back up again and again and again has been a huge part of my learning curve.

Who have you been working with as your coach for this Olympic cycle? Also, have you worked with this coach before, or is this your first cycle collaborating?

I've been working with Maksim Oberemko since December 2023, [and he's] a six-time windsurfing Olympian. While I've never worked with him in a coaching capacity before, I have known him for over 20 years already.

Who have you been training with, and where have you been logging your training miles?

Since December when I started working with Maksim, I've been training with my new 'team'. Manon Berger from Switzerland and Bruna Martinelli from Brazil. I've trained with Bruna several times before in the RS:X.

I was fortunate to join a team that has been patient with me while I'm learning, and it's been a really great environment with the four of us. I'm thankful for their guidance and because I want to be a good training partner, I continuously push myself to help push them.

Of course, pushing comes with a healthy dose of crashes still.

How have you been preparing for the Princess Sofia Regatta? Also, how did that differ from the work you put in ahead of the 2024 iQFoil Worlds?

My focus since starting the iQFOiL is purely on getting time on the water to gain confidence in my ability to sail in all conditions, and pretty much to crash less and less—with the goal of not crashing at all and being able to hold my own in all legs of the race.

With the Worlds being my second regatta on the iQFoil, I was quite timid at the start. In prep for Palma, I'll be working on my starts and pushing during the reaches and downwinds more, without crashing of course!!!

I realize that this is likely a tough question, but can you please rank your three biggest goals going into the Princess Sofia Regatta?

I'm still so new to the iQFoil that my goals are still fairly basic - however my goals are: To get off the starting line clear and with speed, not falling during the race, being able to make more tactical / strategical decisions.

You've represented Canada in the Olympics in the 470, RS:X, and the Nacra 17. Is the iQFoil more or less technical than the other Olympic classes in which you have competed?

It's really hard to say but with adding the foil to the board, there is a lot of technical know-how that I've needed to learn and understand and of course how to sail in these settings.

There are three different racing formats: Slalom, Course and a Marathon race, all which require a different foil set-up and racing styles.

Tuning the foil is very technical but also comes easier with heaps of time on the water—something that I'm still working on.

[The iQFoil is] definitely technically harder than the RS:X, and because I'm flying on a foil it's more technical than the other classes as any mistake typically results in a crash.

Is there anything else about your 2024 campaign that you'd like to add, for the record?

Some people may wonder why...why do this again? Paris 2024 has changed things up with introducing the new iQFoil class in windsurfing. It's a total game-changer, it's reignited my passion for windsurfing, and I want to be part of this exciting change.

What's cool is that I'm among a small group of women-just 260 worldwide-who've competed in five or more Olympics, and only five in sailing. So, why not go for a sixth [Games]? I'm living my Motto: Dare to Dream, Dare to Achieve, Dare to Succeed. Plus, I'm still having a blast with the sport at 46 - age is just a number!

I've already switched sailing disciplines three times, and this would be my fourth [class change], something no other sailor has tried. So, here's to chasing dreams and enjoying the ride!

The question really is - why wouldn't I try?!?

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