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Olympic Trials: Part 1, Epic Fail

Posted by on June 12th, 2011 with 0 Comments

Not Happy

I wish I could be sharing with you great news. The news and results I am more than capable of capturing. But not for one, but many reasons I didn’t perform well this past week at the US Olympic Trials and I lost. Does that mean it’s over? No. Read on and let me tell you about the most intense journey of my life and what I have to do in December to win the US Trials. It’s time to spill the beans. Please understand it’s very hard for me to tell you this story, it’s very personal. In America we often are asked, “how are you?” and everybody responds, “fine”  I’m responding, “terrible.” But not for long.

This past week was the first regatta of the US Olympic Trials. It was one of those regattas that everything went wrong. I had two false starts that cost me significantly plus terrible results the first few days.  It meant the worst regatta in my memory, with people beating me that have never beat me before in a major competition, including Bob my US competitor.  On day 3 I was ready to pack up my bag, and head home.  I was relieved I could finally move on with my life. In the past I had won the trials, peaked well and left it to the best of my ability. But not this time.  I planned on retiring if I lost this segment of the trials, and didn’t have a personal best.  But my long time friend and business partner Alex Jones heard me talk like I’ve never talked before. I said, “It’s done, I’ve already had my day, let me just quit. I won’t be able to make it to Perth anyways.” And at the time it felt good to say that.  I even asked Bob on the third day and who’s leading the US trials to, “take me out of my misery.”  Bob then apologized.   But Alex Jones kept on telling me, “Ben, your going to Perth and your going to win there.”  … and Bob never finished me off here.

I’m a 2008 US Olympian, 7 times National Champion and the best world ranked american the past 9 years. I bring up the following because it’s time for a change and I need your help.  I reached a top 20 World Ranking in 2009 and was among the best sailors in the world. I’m a hard worker and I know I am talented, I test out in the top 10% in most things I attempt or am tested on.  Unlike my competitors, I’ve always worked while competing.  But what I couldn’t do was run a successful Olympic Campaign on $10,000  from US Sailing a year.  That’s all I would receive even after spending over $ 750,000 of money I worked and fundraised over the last 7 years to get to those results level. My Mom and Dad love me very much, but I didn’t hit that part of the genetic lottery.  So in 2010 I was toast, I got sick repeatedly and there was nobody to hold me up. I flatlined in results for the first time in my life. To make matters worse US Sailing cut my funding.  I got angry, depressed, demoralized oh and don’t forget divorced. Well the divorce happened in 2008, but because of the strain of competing. I was free falling, you know when your worst case scenario has been reached. Terminal Velocity.  And what makes me more angry is it’s not like I was struggling to make minimum wage, no I was struggling to make 50K a year while competing internationally part of the year. To fund this properly I needed  75-90K a year and still that’s a third of what the top teams received. My budget had no coach, had no training partners.  I was training in a vacuum.
What all this meant was early retirement last year, but by the middle of 2010 things were looking up again, I had some new sponsorship in alignment and work was going well. I was able to do the workouts again without getting sick, training alone but still able to sail.  But once again, work didn’t pan out well, donations were cut and I was planning on announcing retirement in December 2010. The recession had taken it’s toll on my friends and supporters.  But I couldn’t just quit, I can’t retire like that. So I sold my stuff and went head down into training.  Unfortunately I don’t have much stuff left!  By April I was down again and well I prayed for a miracle. I kept training acting as if, but my runway was getting shorter and shorter.  Thankfully things started working out again. Donators started showing up and support was resuming, I lifted off the runway but clipped a few trees on the way. I also found some part time work with Alex Jones in launching a business.  All this meant was I could finally sleep well at night again.
This April I got on the next flight to Europe for the French World Cup event in Hyeres, the donations hadn’t hit my account yet so I showed up a day before, got a tent and pitched it. I had a reasonable event considering it all. I was the top American by some 18 positions there and I knew I had time to still win at the first trials in Weymouth.  I locked in with the french team training out of Marseille, I received free accommodation there with support of my French friend. Everything was up and up. I was winning some practice races and consistently ahead to many of the top 10 guys training there. Unfortunately it was predominantly light air training. The trials event last week only had 1 day of light air and the rest in conditions I was far from prepared to sail in. Bob Willis took advantage of it and beat me by 14 positions. I typically beat him by 18-20 positions at big events and that is with little training.  I knew I had more in me, way more in me, I had finally a team moving again, I could continue finally. But it was too late to do it here.  I wasn’t going to surrender, it’s not the way I lose.  To add to more difficulty, I had to use my 10 regatta old sail “Old Glory” because the sail I had bought earlier this year was super slow in the windy stuff.  While in Europe the stores were out of stock of the new sails.  There are really no excuses to not performing, the only answer is by performing the next time.
It was day 4 of the US Olympic trials here in weymouth UK, I was at absolutely rock bottom. Losing by nearly 30 positions. I couldn’t imagine a larger nightmare.   But I asked myself a very simple question.  Why was I here and is this going to be my final passage. I could only think of this silly picture of Batman, that says ” I’m Batman.  And I got incredibly pissed off, silently, internally. I was ready to explode and feeling the surge of intensity. I scored a 7, 5, 3.  I’ll be ready for for the second trials event in Perth.
The last  few days of the Olympic trials, I kept getting back my form, I made a 15 position improvement in 2 days to a position that gives me the ability to still take and win the trials at the world championships in Perth the end of this year in Australia.  The US Olympic Trials are half way over and I’m losing by some points. If I perform on average at Perth against Bob, then I should win the Olympic Trials, but I won’t do average. It’s time to have a personal best.  And now I’m training with the worlds best now in my weakest conditions.
At this trials Bob sailed well, his improvements are admirable he sailed at par with where he was last year. I congratulate him on a job well done.   But we were both in Silver fleet.  I kept asking myself, is this really the best America can do? I usually am in gold fleet without training.  Am I going to quit now at an all time low? I know where I can sail, some 30 positions better, places where I have finished before.  I never have failed at a peak regatta in recent memory that I truly cared about.
You might ask why do I even bother?  Because I’m American, I’m talented and I know what I’m capable of performing. I might have been knocked down, but I will be back at the top of my game.  Where do my competitors get their money from? If their american, their family. If their European the government. Where do I?  You and me. I need your help to change the broken system.
I miss home, I miss my family friends and loved ones. I wish I could spend time being a normal person.  I won’t relent though.  I changed my flight and am staying 2 more months here in cold and windy Weymouth, UK. I will not rest until december 18th, the last day the Olympic Trials are finished.  I will hunt down winning form and combination down till I know with vivid  certainty how much I will be the absolute best in Perth. It’s not about beating Bob.   It’s about beating myself there,  something I promise to be proud of in completion and not a quitter.  I know how to sail brilliant tactics, and now I have time and some funds to put it all together, not enough but getting closer. I have 6 months. And I will need your help, firstly to help me win the second trials and do an all time American best in London next year, but secondly to also help me change the system. I can’t bear to see any other youths or American athletes get torn up in the same system that exists today. More to come. Thanks for your prayers and love. I surely have needed it, but we will prevail.
I’ll be in Kiel Germany this week for a “revenge of the Weymouth Trials” world cup event. I’ll be staying in a tent.

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