Jake Lilley (AUS) has had just over three years to get himself ready for the Rio Olympics. He followed the 2012 Games on TV and decided that’s what he wanted to be doing in four years time. He bought a Finn, starting training and the rest is history. Now he is World No. 5 and he goes into the Rio Olympics with a reasonable shot at a medal.
An intensely physical sailor Lilley stands head and shoulders over most of the fleet and is beginning to show some of his huge potential on the racecourse, with several top results in the past year. He qualified Australia for Rio at Santander 2014 but then had an extended trials against Oliver Tweddell (AUS) that only ended after the Gold Cup in May this year, after both sailors raised their game enough for a 1, 2 finish in Hyeres. Lilley followed that up with a fourth place at the 2016 Finn Gold Cup.
Lilley is one of the tallest and heaviest Finn sailors in Rio, but also, at just 23 years old, one of the youngest. “Four years ago, I was a little bit of an unguided missile. Just heaps of energy and ambition but not all directed in the right direction. Now I am rather focussed and use the energy in the right areas. As a sailor I think I've learnt the boat well and what is required. It's hard for me, as a lot of the competitors had already been to an Olympics before I could sail. It's a big experience gap to bridge, so I'm just trying to learn as much as I can, bridge the experience gap and race smarter. It's a process.”
“I certainly started right at the bottom in 2013. It was a steep learning curve and I was lucky to have Brendan Casey and my coaches help to accelerate that process. I was thankful to do the qualification in Santander 2014 and just focus on preparing for the Games ever since. I know I will be one of the youngest competing at the games, but it doesn't stop me aiming for the top step.”
He says his success so far is largely down to his support network. “I'm lucky to have a lot of people that care, and a lot of people that know this game very intricately, around me. I'm in a very blessed position and at the end of the day I just make sure I do everything in my power, every day to be the best I can be. It's a lucky position to be constantly guided and pushed in the right directions by the world's best sailing team.”
His training programme has been through some ups and downs, including changing his coach nine months out from the Games. “It's never easy changing a support network so close to the Games. But I’m young and we are trying to run an accelerated programme.”
“I think I develop and learn at an incredible pace. We are always pushing the upper limits. As such we need to evaluate constantly where we are at in each respect, and work on areas that require more attention.”
But, he says he is not feeling any pressure. “I think I’m really well prepared. I'm fitter and stronger than ever. I have no pressure on me, I’m young and, most importantly, we have been sailing super fast.” The key is to “just never lose focus of the goal and always make the right choices every day. That's all you can ever hope for.”
He has spent a lot of time in Rio getting used to the conditions. “This year I knew I needed to emphasise my racing practice and equipment testing in Rio as priority and felt we had a good grasp on the venue. As the Games drew closer, we decided to spend more time in Brazil, but only once we were happy with what we achieved touching base with the fleet in Europe.”
“Training encompasses all aspects from preparing mentally and physically, to putting in the hours on the water, clicking with the venue, continuing to evaluate our speed and equipment and making sure every box is ticked come Games time. We are just refining every aspect and making sure we bring the absolutely optimal package to the Games.”
“We decided to spend our final preparations both at home in Australia and in Rio. Home provides everything we need and where we can get the most benefit out of our prep and Rio is very specific for clicking into the nuances of the venue.”
“Rio demands a very holistic sailor. The best sailor will win; there is no doubt. It demands everything from tight flat water shifty racing, to drag racing in the current and chop and of course some real swell, offshore sailing conditions. There's no hiding in Rio, if you're weak in a particular area. It will be exposed.”
The best part about Rio? “The atmosphere! It’s a really vibrant venue and different from the standard European circuit. Everyone is excited – so are we. Oh and the sailing is pretty good there too actually.”
He says he is a “super obsessive individual. I find something and I become really addicted and hyper-focussed. The last four years it has been Finn sailing. But I also go through stages of smaller obsessions. Right now, I'm really keen on squash. I have also always been into cycling. I still love it. It's a brutal sport. I love the physical component and the mental aspect too, especially when you're on your physical boundaries. That's where you see what somebody is made of.”
“I think it helps with the sailing.”