Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Day 4, Women's European Laser Radial Championship: The Mother of all Olympic campaigns

by Johanne Rosenquist

No wind for day four of the European Laser Radial Championship in Denmark, so no racing. A disappointment for the 96 competitors gathered for this event in Charlottenlund, but an opportunity for some competitors to head into Copenhagen enjoy a warm summer’s evening.

With no change to the scores, Paige Railey (USA) continues to head the rankings, just a point ahead of reigning World Champion Sarah Steyaert (FRA) and Charlotte Dobson (GBR) who share equal points.

Further down the rankings, Johanna Gustafsson from Finland was itching to get racing today. She weighs just 56kg, so is 5 to 10kg lighter than most of the fleet. “I bought my boat in May and this is my first big regatta,” she said. “It’s too bad I’m a little bit too small, and maybe I’m too much too small. In light winds I can learn, but in heavy winds maybe it’s too big a problem. But I’m trying. I need lots of practice in the Radial, but I hope to find time for it.”

Finding time to practice is not easy for anyone, but for Gustafsson it is even more challenging. Why? Because this 46-year-old is the mother of seven children, aged between 4 and 16.

Before becoming a full-time mother, Gustafsson was a seasoned Olympic campaigner in the Tornado catamaran. For the 1992 Olympic trials she finished runner-up to her brother, who went on to represent the country in Barcelona. She then did a campaign for the 1996 Games in the USA, but motherhood got in the way and she retired from serious Olympic sailing. So did her crew, who also happened to be her husband.

So what, you might ask, is a 46-year-old mother of seven doing back in an Olympic class against a fleet of full-time sailors, some of whom are younger than her own 16-year-old daughter? “I watched the 49er Medal Race on television last year during the Olympics, and I saw them falling over all over the place, and I thought it was time I gave sailing another go,” she says.

Gustafsson is not just doing this for fun. She is at the start of what she considers to be an Olympic campaign. “I think the other girls in Finland might laugh at me for saying that, but that is what I’m doing.” And what of her husband, at home looking after the kids, the man who used to crew her in the Tornado? How does he feel? “I think he is happy with it. He is happy being with the children and he knows I feel there is some unfinished business from the Tornado.”

Being old enough to be the mother of some of her competitors is “not a problem for me,” says Gustafsson. “But for race organisers it seems a problem. I went to sign on at a regatta in Finland, and they said, ‘Yeah, yeah but where is the sailor, where is Johanna?’ ‘It’s me!’ The same thing happened here in Denmark. I laughed about it.”

While Gustafsson is serious about her Olympic hopes, being a mother has taught her to look at life in a more rounded way. “I’m not so serious now as I was in my Tornado days. Even if I have a bad day on the water, when I call home and hear my kids have done well in their orienteering competition, then it’s been a victory for the family that day.”

Tomorrow, hopefully Gustafsson and her younger rivals will be back on The Sound for some more racing, as the regatta enters its final phase.

Laser Radial Europeans

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