We are the Finnish Nacra 17 sailing team. For those new to the world of sailing, the Nacra 17 is a double handed catamaran and used in one of the ten Olympic sailing disciplines. What makes the Nacra 17 rather exciting is threefold:
Firstly, Nacra 17 is a foiling catamaran, which means that when the boat reaches sufficient speed, it gets airborne and further accelerates to 2 ̶ 2.5x the speed of the wind. In just 8 knots of wind (15 kph), we can be sailing at 22 kts (40 kph) thanks to the efficiency of the boat and the foils. Pretty cool to be using wind power to move forward, at 2 times its speed!
Secondly, it is a mixed class, meaning that every team is composed of one man and one woman. However, the teams themselves can choose how they want to configure the roles and responsibilities on board. We have decided that Akseli is the crew, doing the physical work and making the boat sail fast and stable, and Sinem is the helm, having an overview of the fleet and the racecourse and positioning us accordingly. What makes the Nacra remarkable is that there is no separation between men and women.
Thirdly, the boat speed can reach speeds up to 30 kts (55 kph), and we can sail comfortably and steadily at 25 kts (46 kph). This of course requires numerous hours of training on and off the water to perfect, to work on our timing together within the team, our communication, and our setup. There are so many variables in the Nacra 17 that you really need an immense understanding of how everything relates to each other and how to use it all to your advantage in constantly changing conditions. You always need to stay sharp.
Our team is a relatively young one, with a total time of under two years together. The teams we are competing against all have 6-10 years of experience together and it is hard for us to catch up. Yet we have evidently done a few things right last season and managed to put up a good fight, taking silver and bronze medals at the European and World Championships respectively and silver at the Palma World cup earlier in 2022.
After the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, we sat down, set our short- and long-term goals, identified the areas we needed to work on and made a plan, setting some ground rules for our Paris 2024 Olympic campaign. We have identified also those six factors that really have helped us become one of the top teams in our discipline:
Since the start of our campaign, we have been confident that we have the necessary knowledge, skill, and talent to reach the top. What we didn't want was to mimic what other top teams were doing, but instead really understand the boat and all its dynamics and have our own approach to maximizing its performance.
We wanted to stay innovative and come up with our own ideas and sailing style. We needed to really understand what we wanted to achieve from the boat and how best to get it. We stayed creative and curious, and, with a thorough evaluation and testing process and a good team around us, managed to quickly either cast aside ideas or embed them into our style. Our philosophy here is that we can’t beat the top teams if we are always trying to follow what they do. Better to develop, stay innovative, and carve your own path!
We have been setting high but realistic goals for ourselves. Most important are the daily goals. We always make sure that we have a clear idea on what we want to achieve from a particular training ̶ and we go out to achieve exactly that. This enhances the everyday learning process, and together with our daily debrief and analysis we can quickly see what ideas worked and how we are progressing. Plus, it really enhances the sense of accomplishment over time. This being said, we also make sure we put in “play days” during our training camps to ensure that we leave room for creativity and learning through playfulness. It’s always exciting to see what new ideas come up after a play day. The change of pace and structure once in a while is rather refreshing.
We are strong believers in trusting the process and letting the performance follow. What is important for us is that we enjoy everyday life. Learning new things and developing ourselves is what motivates us the most. Enjoying everyday life is difficult at times, as it would be easy to put everything and every moment you have to realize what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t get us wrong, we do put in everything we have, but there needs to be a balance with life outside of Olympic sailing or it would not be sustainable in the long-term. It is all about finding a balance.
This is a tough one to tackle, but we have found it important to dig deep and be honest with yourself and the team. For us this means being honest with our own limitations and weaknesses. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal, and we are there to help get the best out of one another. By creating the right environment and trust within the team, we have made it easier to be open and honest, and when necessary to accept that we may be wrong at times. We have found that being honest and humble with each other has brought us together even more.
Our team is a strong believer in hard work. We are thorough, we think, breath and live sailing. If there is something that needs to get done, we make it our priority whether its midnight, Sunday or Christmas. If we have an idea of something that we think could even marginally help our everyday learning or overall performance, we will get it done and try it. We won't leave any stones unturned. This is the goal that we set together as a team, and we will work as hard as needed to get there.
The final point is balance. Balance in our complimentary personalities and past experiences that got us to the top and of our specifically divided responsibility areas. The balance of training vs. rest. A balance between gaining racing experience and having enough training days. Of our budget and our Bringing in knowledge and expertise to complement our skills. A balance between our campaign and our so-called normal life, and balancing ourselves psychologically. At the end of the day, it all comes down to finding stability in all aspects of our campaign. Right now, we are in the flow and it will be one of our main priorities to keep that going in the foreseeable future.
Luckily, we still have time before Paris 2024 to keep learning about ourselves and our team, and, most importantly, to keep enjoying what we do! The rest will follow.
Sinem Kurtbay & Akseli Keskinen
Kurbay and Keskinen are Finnish professional Olympic athletes in sailing and competing in the Nacra 17 class. The pair made their debut in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics and are getting ready for the Olympics held in Paris in 2024. They have taken silver and bronze medals at the European and World Championships respectively and silver at the Palma World cup in 2022. Sinem and Akseli were nominated in the recent Finnish Sports Gala for the breakthrough of the year. Normet is an official sponsor of the pair on their road to Paris.