It has been a busy four years for Jonathan Lobert (FRA), the Finn bronze medalist at the London 2012 Olympics. His medal race win in Weymouth on a sunny August afternoon in 2012 set the scene for a remarkable Olympic cycle that, though frustrating for him at times, has created a better all-round sailor than he ever was in 2012, and he goes into the 2016 Olympics as one of the sure fire medal favourites.
Back in 2012 he was one of the new breed of younger, taller, stronger and fitter sailors with an athletic style around the boat that made Finn sailing almost gymnastic.
“Since 2012, the Finn has again moved forward a lot. Most of the sailors are now very fit and very fast downwind. If you make a mistake it’s very hard to come back. I think it’s tighter racing than ever between the guys.”
Though it took him three more years after 2012 to win another major medal, silver at the 2015 Finn Gold Cup in Takapuna, he has rarely been out of the top five at any major event since 2012, but he has also he lost count of the number of times he lost a medal as he closed down an otherwise successful series. But now that he has overcome his medal shortage, his confidence has taken a boost and he is one of the top favourites in Rio.
His selection for Rio came after long time training partner Thomas Le Breton dropped out of the race, allowing Lobert to focus on training in Rio. And he is one of those who have spent a huge amount of time training in Rio over the past three years, often skipping major regattas in Europe to make it happen.
“I have been sailing many times in Rio during the campaign and I realise that it’s not an easy place to sail especially outside with the big swell. I hope with all the hours we have spent there I will be able to be fast in most of the situations.”
And there have also been the unusual situations to deal with. “During the last camp we had in March I discovered what heavy rain means in Rio. It started to rain around midday and after only four hours of rain most of the streets around the bay were under 70 cm of super dirty water."
His training group included Max Salminen (SWE) and Tapio Nirkko (FIN), both veterans from Weymouth in 2012, though Salminen was at the front of the gold medal winning Star boat. Together the three sailors have produced one of the tightest multi-national training groups ever, but as the Games come ever closer, the needs of the one start to outweigh the needs of the group.
“I think it was a great chance for us to be able to work together with Tapio and Max. We have been learning a lot from each other and we all have improved a lot during the last four years. Now with the Games coming we are each of us focusing more on ourselves. But Tapio and Max are both very smart, and very good guys, and we keep on working in a good spirit and in the end we know that the best of us will win.”
He says that to be successful in the Games he needs to be a very good sailor in most of the conditions and be able to adapt very quickly for the different race areas. “Most important of all you need to have a strong will to keep pushing in the difficult times you will face during the regatta.”
“I try to get the most of every situation and training camp. With François we always try to figure out what we can improve or learn from the training or the regattas.” François Le Castrec (FRA), himself a successful Finn sailor in the 1980s, has been Lobert’s coach since before the 2012 Games.
“To be in the best shape during the Games I am trying to listen to myself and use my experience from big championships to ready at the right time. Of course François keeps pushing me all the time the get the best from me.” But now, “I am just focusing on details. Most of the work has been done already during the last few years.”
Lobert says he has developed both as a sailor and an athlete over the last four years. “During the last four years I believe I have become a more professional sailor, and I have been trying all the time to get better and stronger. I have been most of the time top five in the regattas and in all the conditions I am able to reach the podium. I am also more calm these days than I was before, so maybe I am starting to be a grown man.”
“Becoming a father has for sure, also changed my life for ever. It has been very hard to get in shape in training and regattas during the last 15 months, but I learned a lot about myself: when it's too much, when I need to rest. But most of it I realised I can push myself much more than I thought before.”
French success in the Finn class has been limited to gold for Serge Maury in 1972, and then bronze Guillaume Florent in 2008 and Lobert in 2012. It’s an interesting fact that after 64 years and 16 Olympic Games, no medalist in the Finn has ever returned and taken a higher medal. Lobert is fairly well placed to take on that challenge, but jokes, “I hope I can break the cycle!”
NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT
Quite unsurprisingly for a Frenchman, Jonathan Lobert loves to cook. “And I am not too bad at it.”