The peak of my sailing career was at the 2000 Olympics. I was young 23yr old, and sailing in a 470, a two person boat. We had a top 10 world ranking, we were fully funded and we were ‘the cream of the cream’ the NZ Sports Foundation told us. Expectations were high.
We were fast in the build up to the Games - we had a very well tuned, well built and fast boat.
We had consistent, good results in the first few races of the regatta and our competitors took the chance to tack right on us when they could. Despite this, we were in 2nd place a few days into the regatta.
There was nothing normal about this regatta; there were reporters surrounding the boat park, the regatta stretched to nine days long due to lay days and days with no wind. There was plenty of time for self doubt to creep in.
We decided to use someone to spot the wind from the Sydney cliffs and talk to us via radio about the wind before the race. Perhaps we were overhyped and overthinking things, but I sailed the race looking around at everyone else instead of just focusing on our own race. We finished mid fleet.
Then, I made a mistake during the rigging the next morning.
We were doing well in the next race and then our jib falls down and we were sailing around the course with only one sail, helplessly watching our competitors sail away.
After the race, we fixed our jib, but desperation took over and I thought I had to do something special. We crossed the start-line and hear the ‘individual recall’ hooter, but we couldnt bear to even consider we might have been over the start line too early, and we stubbornly don't look back. We raced hard and won but we didn't hear the gun when we cross the line - we were disqualified. I later heard we were not just a little bit over the line, we were well over.
The team manager wanted to help give me a public profile and lead me to Peter Montgomery who is live on radio. Peter says, ‘Now Melinda, can you please explain to New Zealand how you can drop from 2nd place to 12th place in one day?’
On the last day of racing we had a beautiful breeze and the crowds were on Sydney’s cliffs cheering on the Aussie crew who were leading the regatta. My pride kicked in and I got caught up in the moment. We tacked in and out of the cliffs moving up the fleet, and I lean out (hike) a bit further, and a bit further still. Then during a tack, I missed my hiking strap and all of a sudden I am in the water staring at the underside of my capsized boat. Embarrassed at capsizing in front of cameras and crowds, we quickly righted the boat. We finished the regatta in 11th overall.
Now, I can honestly say that the build up and the experience of being in Sydney for the Olympics was absolutely amazing. There was so much atmosphere and there were plenty of opportunities to distract myself from feeling the intense disappointment of our placing.
And I still love sailing, which is why it is always a pleasure to get other people into sailing, especially in dinghies, with the TIWAL Inflatable Sailing Dinghy.
I am a New Zealand sailor who learned to sail in the beautiful Malborough Sounds and then went onto represent NZ at the 2000 Olympics.