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An interview with Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance about their 49erFX campaign for Paris 2024

by David Schmidt 7 May 03:46 PDT July 26– August 11, 2024
Nova Scotia's 49erFX sailors Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance qualify to be nominated for Paris 2024 Olympic Games © Sail Canada

When it comes to making high-performance boats go fast, sisters Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance know a heck of a lot. The two recently earned a berth to represent Canada at the Paris 2024 Olympics in the 49erFX class, and they have also spent time sailing with the Canada SailGP team, logging time on foiling F50 catamarans.

But, for the Chester, Nova Scotia natives, the Olympics have been a lodestar since they were kids, and while they were new to the 49erFX in 2018, they have been posting some impressive results in the lead-up to the Paris Games.

These include earning a fourth-place finish at the Princess Sofia Regatta (March 29-April 6), and an eight-place finish at the 2024 49erFX Worlds (March 4-10).

This trajectory looks bright, and while it’s been 32 years since O Canada was played at an Olympic medal ceremony, the Lewin-LaFrance sisters enter this year’s Games as contenders.

I checked in with the Lewin-LaFrance sisters, via email, to learn more.

Can you please tell us a bit about your campaign for these Games? What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome so far?

Our campaign in the 49erFX officially started in the spring of 2018, but in reality, it was way earlier than that.

As kids, we watched the Games on TV, and we were in absolute awe of these people. At that time, we were in love with whichever sport we were playing in our elementary school gym class. We started taking sailing lessons in the summer because it was what you did on the South Shore in Nova Scotia. Sailing camp was very affordable at the time, even "cheap", we daresay.

After years and years of sailing different boats with different people, Georgia needed a crew for the U.S. Nationals, and Antonia decided to step into this role for the first time ever. At this point, Antonia had started university and was losing sight of Olympic dreams, but starting this with Georgia made it all seem possible again.

Transitioning from a youth class (420/i420) to an Olympic class (49erFX) proved to be extremely difficult for us. With pennies, we were going into the second most-expensive Olympic class. Antonia had never set foot on a skiff. We were seriously underweight for the boat, and not even close to being in shape to sail it properly.

Ironically though, the biggest challenge of all has been creating a world-class team of two sisters with polar-opposite personalities. It's like we're from different planets.

What do you see as your biggest strengths going into the Paris Olympics?

Off the top of our heads, our biggest strength would be our relationship with our coach, Krzysztof Kierkowski. He's been a phenomenally dedicated mentor to us since we started in the boat. We've spent years tailoring our routines together and going through as many scenarios as we can brainstorm.

When we're training, Krys' sayings are in the back of our heads: "longer wires" means toggle down on the trapeze, or sometimes he'll whistle and point his finger up, which means our top batten is inverted (yes, it happens to the best of us).

Let’s invert that last question—what do you see as your weak spots? Also, how do you plan to address these between now and late July?

The crack in our armour is that this will be our first Games. Whether it be the Pan American Games or the Olympics, these events are extremely different from our typical regattas. Everything is logistically different, there are all sorts of rules that you wouldn't even begin to imagine.

Our task for the upcoming months is to get well-acquainted with the venue and develop our usual routines to fit in with all the hurdles associated with the Olympics.

You guys recently finished in 8th place in the Worlds. How hard do you think it will be to build on this great result at the Games? Also, do you think the smaller fleet size at the Games will be a help or a hinderance in this respect?

Good question.

Our Olympic trials were the be-all-end-all for us. Everything we did was to prepare for the trials. For the first time in Canada, there was going to be a serious battle for the FX berth in Paris.

The Worlds was an incredibly challenging event. The conditions were completely unlike what we'd seen in the months and months leading up to the event. All this is to say that when we crossed the finish line of the medal race knowing we moved up into 8th, it was a euphoric moment.

Palma would have been the second part of our trials had we not finished 8th, and when we got there 10 days after the Worlds, we were so relieved that our trials were over. To maintain the level of focus we put forward at the Worlds would have been a huge challenge.

How hard will it be to build on this? There isn't a perfect answer. The fleet has gotten very tight over this quad. Over the last few Worlds and Europeans, there have been serious shuffles in the [fleet’s] Top 10.

Thankfully for us, we have clear direction on what we want to work on in the lead-up. A smaller fleet size at the Games means more opportunity to use boatspeed, which is one of our stronger departments.

How much time have you been spending in Marseille over the past few years? Also, when do you plan to move there ahead of the Games?

We've spent all of 10 days training in Marseille, so immediately after the Europeans in La Grande Motte (May 5-12), we're solely training in Marseille.

Can you please walk us through a typical day of on-the-water training look like?

Everything is scheduled around sailing.

If we're launching at 11, we'll go to the boat park around 9:30. We'll do our typical rigging jobs and then sit down with [coach] Krys and discuss goals for the day. We'll have a briefing with the training group, warm-up, and go "sails up" ten minutes before launch time. It doesn't take ten minutes to hoist the sails and we usually launch at 10:58 if we're supposed to be sailing at 11. Everybody teases us about it.

A typical sailing session is around three hours. Krys could stay on the water for six hours (it happened once in Miami), so we also monitor the time between drills. When we get back to shore, we do a small cooldown, de-rig the boat, and have a team debrief.

Afterward, we'll go home for a break and then go to the gym if we have a strength workout scheduled. In the evenings, we try to watch training footage together.

It's worth mentioning that a huge part of our day consists of eating a lot!

Who have you been training with for this quadrennial? Any teams in articular? Also, who have you been working with on the coaching side?

We've been training with [49erFX teams from] Finland and Belgium. It's been such a pleasure working with them. Each team brings something unique to the table, and we have a highly coveted type of training relationship where everything is shared.

We're all very competitive with each other on the water, and back ashore we're lifelong friends.

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