Facundo Olezza from Argentina is celebrating today after getting the call-up from his sailing federation to go to the Rio Olympic Games in the Finn following his outstanding result at the Sailing World Cup in Miami just over a week ago.
He is the second sailor in the Finn class development programme, FIDeS, to win selection to Rio. Both Olezza and Alejandro Foglia of Uruguay are also members of the FINNTEAM training group.
Behind the young Argentinean’s elation and excitement is a story about perseverance against the odds and overcoming an injury that nearly stopped him realising his Olympic dream. Not only did the Olezza produce a career best tenth place, out of 46 boats in Miami, he did so with a broken wrist and a mast that had recently been repaired after breaking in two.
On hearing the news of his selection he said, “I have no words to describe how happy I am. It’s an indescribable feeling. It only seems like yesterday that I was 10 years old sailing Optis and saw the great sailors like Santiago Lange or Julio Alsogaray and Juan de la Fuente, representing Argentina in the Olympics and they looked like heroes to me. It’s hard to believe that now it’s my turn to represent Argentina in the greatest sailing competition.”
“It has been my dream to become like Santiago Lange and these guys, and of course it is my everyday fuel for the gold medal that everybody wants. I feel like nobody in this world could possibly desire this medal with so much strength as I do.”
He was quietly confident about being selected, but was still waiting nervously. “The Argentinean federation told us that if one of us got the place and was above the other guys by a significant difference, they could decide in Miami who was selected for Rio. If not, then the Europeans and Palma would be the trials. They sent me an email yesterday. I knew it could be an option that they would decide this week.”
In early 2015 he made the decision to leave his home and travel to Valencia to train at the Dinghy Academy under the eye of Luca Devoti. “That played a very important role. Luca is responsible for all my improvements in the past year. He has a lot of experience and is the best in what he does, apart of being an excellent person. The guys here in the Dinghy Academy are also like coaches to me as I learnt a lot from them, Vasco [Vasilij Zbogar], Zombi [Zsombor Berecz] and Chino [Alejandro Folgia] are already qualified and let’s hope that the rest can get their place in their continental place and national trials.” Three more sailors from the Dinghy Academy are still hoping to win a place.
He spoke of the injury that nearly put an end to his dreams. “In December I fell off a horse and broke the scaphoid bone in my wrist. I had surgery on December 7 and the doctors told me that I had to be in plaster for at least two months, but I took the risk and only two weeks after the surgery I came to Valencia and started sailing again. It has been really painful and challenging as this bone takes from three to six months to fix. Now it’s still broken but I manage to sail with a wrist protector and also I changed a few things in free pumping and tacking techniques in order to sail well.”
His coach, Luca Devoti said, “I am very proud of what he has accomplished so far. He managed to recover from a really nasty injury in record time and is just going to get better and better. He is a hard worker and a pleasure to work with.”
“I know how much this means for him and am moved by the effort he has put in. When he broke his wrist we decided for surgery, and to speed up recovery doctors told him not to even dream to train before January 1. When he arrived here on December 25 we were out sailing the same day. He learned to tack pulling the sheet with his feet, to jibe with the sheet cleated, and to pump with the opposite hand. But I was really worried as he was in a lot of pain.”
But use of ice and a few days off worked a miracle. “We were back training the third day using elastics to simulate the pumping and squashing a tennis ball all day long to get the forearm strong again. On January 13 he took the plane and went over to Miami, his wrist still sore but OK.”
After a tricky start in the tough conditions in Miami, Olezza rallied and left his opposition behind to claim his first ever medal race line-up, as well as qualifying Argentina for the South American Olympic spot.
Olezza continued, “Our main concern now is to recover from my wrist injury, and then to catch up with the top guys to reach the Games in the best possible shape. I trust in Luca and in my team, and of course in myself.”
“Until then I will be training in Valencia with the Dinghy Academy group and FINNTEAM members until June, when we will move to Rio.”
The FINNTEAM is a group of, currently, five sailors training and learning together with joint funding available through a Finn class initiative. “Training with FINNTEAM guys is a short cut to learning, as we share our doubts and learning in order to grow as a group and reach the best level. Of course this is difficult with our very low budget, as we cannot do all the regattas because the travelling is expensive, or train with good sails as we only have two or three for the whole season. This is a big concern after Rio, as planning four years of campaign without a proper budget is tough.”
Now he is selected he will get some help from his federation, including buying a boat. Up to now he has depended on supplied gear from the Dinghy Academy or the Finn Class funding support. But “After Rio it will be tough as the Federation support will be less, but my intentions are to keep up with the training at the Dinghy Academy with the FINNTEAM and try to gear up from 2017 until Tokyo.”
When he started sailing the Finn just a year ago, did he ever imagine this moment would come? “Absolutely not. When I first arrived in Valencia I didn’t even know that there was a continental place to be honest. It has not been a year yet since I first tried the Finn but the hard work we’ve done with Luca during the year finally has paid off.”
By Games time in August he will still only be 21 years old, and looks to have a great future ahead of him. “I feel grateful for the life I have, and for the parents I have, who always put themselves before me. It would have been impossible without their unconditional support ever since I was little, and all that will come from now on, it’s for them.”