Jonathan Lobert will go into the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition with the expectations of a nation on his broad shoulders. After the 2008 Finn Class bronze medal was won by fellow French sailor Guillaume Florent, this year may bring more French success with Jonathan's performance in recent years suggesting that another Finn medal is a distinct possibility.
In 2008 Florent beat Jonathan in the French trials before going on to win the bronze at the Olympics in China. At the time Jonathan was a relative newcomer to the Finn fleet, having moved into the class in 2007 after outgrowing the Laser. But he made steady progress and then in 2010 was suddenly the centre of attention as he led the fleet for much of that year's Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta - the event that saw the return of Ben Ainslie to the Finn fleet. Jonathan eventually ended up second to Giles Scott.
He lost his way a bit at the 2010 Finn Gold Cup in San Francisco, finishing 13th, some way behind his main competition for the Olympic berth, Thomas Le Breton, who placed fifth. However at the end of the year he won the 2010 Perth International Regatta, and then the following year, Jonathan picked up the silver medal at the 2011 Olympic Test Event in Weymouth, a big step towards his eventual selection. A sixth place at the 2011 Finn Gold Cup in Perth sealed it for Jonathan and soon after he was announced as the French choice for Weymouth.
France does not have a great record in the Finn Class at the Olympics. Aside from Florent's bronze, France's only other medal was from Serge Maury who struck Gold in 1972, when the sailing events were in Kiel. So with Jonathan medaling in two of the the four major events in Weymouth over the past two years, it is fair to say that he is expected to perform well. So far he has normally saved his best for Weymouth.
Always very polite and modest, Jonathan puts his success down to a team effort. “I am very lucky because until the end of the preparation for the Games I had Thomas sailing with me and always pushing hard. My coach François [Le Castrec] is always helping me to stay on the track we have chosen together. Also with Tapio [Nirkko], Daniel [Birgmark] and Jokke [Wilenius] we have a great training group. I think all these people are very important to succeed.”
“I try to see the Olympics as a great chance to be part of it and I would like to have no regrets about my sailing at the end of the regatta. I will try my best as always. As it's my first games I am looking forward to feeling the atmosphere of this unique event.”
Jonathan's physique is ideally suited to the Finn. In a 2011 interview he said, “I am very attracted by the Finn because I think the boat looks great, and this bunch of tall and strong guys is very friendly. I love the downwind with the free pumping. It is so exciting surfing the waves standing up in the boat and feeling this heavy boat becoming lighter and lighter as the speed increases. You need to be strong and you need to have a very good cardio, but for me the key is to feel the boat sliding on the water.”
“We can pump from 10 knots of wind, but when it's around 10 knots you need to have a perfect move to increase your speed. I think it's really good for the class because the sailing technique is improving all the time. And when people are watching the Finn they say, “that's real sport.”
Attendance at many regattas has been low this year. He explained. “I think it's always like this before the Games. Some guys are still in selections. The Falmouth Finn Festival was just after Hyeres, while the Europeans was on the other side of Europe to where we were training in Cadiz. I just tried to be in good form when I go to the regattas to do my best.”
What has been the hardest part about the campaign this time around? “The hardest part of the campaign has been the last six months since when I was selected. It took me a bit of time to get used to it.”
What is so special for him about the Olympics? “In dinghy sailing it's the greatest regatta you can compete in. It's only every four years and when you are successful you are part of the history of your sport. But you need to be dedicated to it, you need to really enjoy what you are doing and you need to be a little bit crazy. But it's no sacrifice to me, because I love what I do.”
For many sailors, the final choice of gear can be a stressful time as well as a critical decision. For Jonathan this is far from the case. “For me it's easy because I almost always use the same gear everywhere. I try to adapt myself and not the gear.”
“I will be using Hit mast and Wilke mast. I will use both but I have a better feeling with my Hit and I have the Wilke just in case. For my sails I will use a WB of course. I love those sails, and they are very well made. They are very fast in some conditions and I had good results in Weymouth with it.”
“I haven't changed much over the past four years. I just fixed my Hit mast many times because it had a few cracks from the sails we were working with Jokke, Tapio and Daniel to improve in the strong wind and I think we did it pretty well.”
What does he have planned in the lead up to the Games? “Before it starts I just chill and try to be as bored as possible to be really happy to jump in my boat for the Games.”
“What is great about sailing is that you never know what could happen. It's also the only sport where a beginner can sometimes beat an Olympic champion in one race. This why I think it's really open. The fleet is tight and a lot of guys can win.”
After the Olympics is over? “I think I will keep on sailing Finn but I would like to join a team in the America's Cup or in big boat sailing to learn to a different way of racing.”
“I would like to see faster races in the Olympics. I like the medal race format, and I like the way they are sailing the 49er. This could be great for the Finns, something like we did in Perth close to the shore. A bit like what is happening in the cup.”
Jonathan was one of the few sailors we interviewed who would be drawn on his medal favourites (apart from himself)? “Ben Ainslie, Pieter-Jan Postma and Jonas Høgh-Christensen.”
To end with another quote from the 2011 interview, Jonathan said, “The most important thing I learned in the Finn Class is that it is possible to sail like gentlemen – enemies on the water, but very good friends on the shore.” There will be 24 enemies sailing Finns in Weymouth Bay, but more than a few friends on shore once the racing is over, whether or not a medal has been won.
Photos: Robert Deaves/Finn Class