The Dinghy Academy in Valencia was established two years ago by 2000 Olympic Finn silver medalist Luca Devoti as a way to develop the skills of aspiring Olympians in a group training environment. More and more sailors are benefitting from his unique experience and coaching style, and the first class facilities offered at the Academy, which is located in the extensive grounds of the Real Club Náutico de Valencia.
In 2013 the Finn class partnered with the Dinghy Academy to part fund up to four sailors each year to train at the Academy, help out with equipment charter and purchase as well as travel to major events. That initiative continues and each sailor has to agree to specific goals and a training/regatta schedule and they can benefit from charter boats, sailing and fitness coaching as well as working in a very focussed sporting atmosphere of continual learning and improvement.
The Real Club Nautico has the perfect location for a training base, with extensive facilities including a gym, restaurant and an Olympic sized swimming pool. The weather and wind is about as pleasant and reliable as anywhere in Europe with wind all but guaranteed on 98 out of every 100 days. The Academy has attracted all types of Finn sailors from juniors setting out on the journey to Masters warming up before a major championship.
One of the regulars is Alejandro Foglia (URU). He has already been to the Olympics three times in the Laser, with a best result of eighth in London 2012, before stepping into the Finn in 2013. However his Finn campaign didn’t start too well with a back problem in his first regatta. “I got injured in Palma and had to stop for almost a year. I had a slipped disk in my lower back so it was hard because I was used to training hard. I am an active person, so one year out was hard, but on the positive side I had more time to finish my physical education studies. Now it is back to 100 per cent OK, but of course I need to care of it.”
Foglia was one of the first sailors to receive funding from the Finn Class through its FIDeS programme (Finn International Development Support). “I am very happy to be here. I moved here to train and now live here all year round. We have a very good group here. It is the best option for me if I want to train in a good group.”
He described a typical training period in which recovery is as much a part of the programme as on the water work and physical training. “We have a routine of three weeks training and one week off, which is basically recovery training. During the three weeks the loads are gradually increased. We train on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then recover on Thursday. Then on Friday and Saturday we train harder and then have Sunday off to recover. We do that with increasing loads over the three weeks and then take a week off. If there is a regatta coming then we take a week off before the regatta.”
“We do endurance training from October to January. Then we are just maintaining that and increasing intensity with weights in the gym and sailing of course. The amount we do of each activity depends on the wind. If we look at the forecast and have a hard week coming then the most important thing is to sail, so we train in the gym but not as hard as if the wind is are light, because you want to be fresh when you go sailing to do the best you can.”
The ‘head sailor’ in Valencia is the 2013 European Champion, and double Olympic Laser medalist, Vasilij Zbogar (SLO). “For me Valencia is a great training place where I can focus just on the sailing.”
“For a guy like me that is from a small country with just few Finn sailors, the academy it is a great place to train with other sailors. Valencia is a nice town, and the Real Club Nautico and all the facilities, good weather and wind all year around will ensure a long and successful future for the Dinghy Academy.”
Head Coach Luca Devoti said, “Sailors who come here just get better day by day. The tough training and competition makes them grow at all levels from masters to top champions. The camaraderie between the sailors and the fact that we share all the information makes us grow day by day.”
“Since we started we have had more than 50 sailors coming here over the first three years of life. All kinds of sailors learn, they learn from the champions here and they share their passion. For this, Valencia is magic…I hope the Dinghy Academy will become the reference for dinghy sailing in a modern doping free, friendly and competent environment.”
Not only is the Dinghy Academy serving as a fantastic training base to a number of established sailors, it is also acting as a staging post for young sailors taking their first steps in the Finn, somewhere they can learn the ropes, get the best advice, and plan a campaign of substance and direction.
Since early 2013 more than 50 sailors, ranging from juniors up to Grand Masters have made use of the facilities and the coaching and training opportunities on offer. Head Coach, Luca Devoti is ardent that the Academy is there for everyone and encourages Masters to train there as much as he does young sailors. The Swiss and Russian Masters are already frequenting the centre on a regular basis.
However he recognises that the future of the class lies with its youth and attracting new blood into the fleet. Together with the Finn Class through the FIDeS (Finn International Development Support) programme he actively seeks out sailors to join the programme, for example Laser sailors who have grown too big, and emerging talents from developing nations. Over the past two years the Academy has helped sailors from many nations developing sailing from Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
Santiago Falasca (ARG) is receiving FIDeS funding to train in Valencia. “I came here in 2014 when I began in the Finn. I have improved a lot and sometimes I am already catching the guys who have done many Olympic campaigns. So I am feeling very confident and very good about the future. I think this year is going to be a breakthrough year, a very important year to change and improve and break through to the professional sailors.”
Falasca talked about using Valencia as his base, ”I think it is probably the best place to learn everything. We are always sailing with the top guys of the Finn class. We have a gym here, we have a top coach coming all the time to give us advice. We have every aspect of the training covered. Coaching on the water, coaching in the gym and physiotherapy. Everything is covered. Of course having a coach that has a silver medal in the Finn is also very positive. He knows a lot about how to sail the Finn and about the materials we need to improve our sailing.”
But it is not just beginners training in Valencia. One of the international fleets fastest rising stars, Josh Junior (NZL), is also an occasional visitor to Valencia. “It’s pretty awesome training with a good bunch of guys and normally pretty good weather. You get some pretty good racing with some really good guys.”
“It’s really good because you just end up sailing five days a week and it’s gym and sail, gym and sail, always racing 10-15 other boats of which at least five of them are really, really good. So you just end up getting better.”
In 2014 the Dinghy Academy became an ISAF Approved Training Centre following a full audit of its operations and facilities. Luca Devoti explained, “So far this has not really had much impact on our operations, though with time I hope that such a prestigious acknowledgment will help us grow and promote the sport even more.”
Devoti has a lot of plans for the future of the Academy. “I am trying to put together a programme that includes studying and a degree in economics starting from September 2016 in conjunction with a local university so that sailors can also get an academic qualification while they train.”
Devoti sees the synergy between the emerging youngsters and the established sailors, some of which are on their fourth Olympic campaign. Transfer of knowledge is an important part of the Finn culture, and there are plans to put this into practice.
The diversity of sailors using the facilities in Valencia speaks volumes about the success of the programme. As well as the Spanish team there are sailors from Slovenia, Hungary, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Russia, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Croatia. It is a truly international bunch of like-minded sailors all focussed on one goal – getting better at Finn sailing. And they way they are going about it, you are left in no doubt they will succeed.
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All photos © Robert Deaves