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BST blog – Dylan Fletcher – New year, same challenges

Written by 18th January 2021 Blog, Tokyo 2020

Over the next year we will be bringing you guest blogs from the Tokyo 2020 selected athletes who will give you an insight in to their lives in the run up to the Olympic Games – this month, 49er helm Dylan Fletcher.

Christmas and new year is a busy time for anyone and everyone, but this year has been on another level. Making plans. Breaking plans. Changing plans. And that’s in both sailing and our personal lives.

I started December sailing with Stu (Bithell), and as great as the UK and Weymouth is for sailing, just the lack of daylight hours make things hard to fit everything in. Add in to that the restrictions that are in place for the team gym and you have to put a lot in to a short space of time.

Sailing in the UK in December also throws up some challenges with regards to the temperature. When you are kid you throw on a drysuit and extra layers and off you go, but we can’t do that now. We are at the stage where there are ‘marginal gains’ in the clothing we wear from things like drag but also just simple movement around the boat is totally different so you are not getting the true experience of sailing the 49er.

Because of these reasons in a normal year we go to Europe for the winter to maximise our training, but as we all know this year and last are far from normal. Instead, me and Stu decided we would take the opportunity to work on our fitness a bit more – and with the help of our sports science team we had a three week ‘boot camp’.

It was an intense three weeks. We had a lot of physical challenges and problem-solving challenges. The team really set out some interesting things for us to do, but the thing I liked is that we never knew what was coming until the last minute. It really kept you on your toes and kept you engaged. Sometimes we would get a text saying be here and bring this clothing, and the clothing had nothing to do with the task, it was just to keep you guessing. It was really good fun.

We did some fun activities like a bike ‘treasure hunt’ where we would have to send a picture of a place before being given the next clue and location. But we also did some brutal stuff like strapping weights to yourself and pulling huge loads along Chesil Beach, which is sometimes even hard to walk along never mind pull any sort of weight.

At the end of the camp when I reflected back, there were some interesting learnings. The camp was me and Stu and then Charlotte (Dobson) and Sas (Tidey). Because of the range of challenges we did some individual, some as a ‘boat’ team and some mixed and at the end we could see everyone’s strengths by who performed or won different challenges. It was a great learning experience as well as brutal fitness.

After such an intense period you need to take time out, and Christmas was a perfect time for that, although it wasn’t the normal Christmas for us just like it wasn’t for everyone.

Charlotte and I had planned to go to Scotland to see her family and spend Christmas with them. We had organised all the isolation periods, tests, we had everything in place to make it as safe as we possible could to go, but with all the restrictions and ever-changing guidance we decided the best thing to do was to stay in Portland.

As me and Charlotte are engaged and live together, and Charlotte sails with Sas we had a nice quiet Christmas dinner together with us three and Rhos (Hawes – Saskia’s boyfriend). When I say quiet, what would Christmas be without an argument? Hopefully the readers can help settle this – the girls wanted dinner at around 6-7, me and Rhos wanted lunch around 2-3. Who was right…?

Everyone knows 2020 was the year of the Zoom call so in the spirit of it all we had Zoom calls with my family and Charlotte’s and did the same for new year. You just have to try and make the best of a bad situation don’t you.

If 2020 was the year of the Zoom call, what will 2021 be the year of? Well it has certainly started interestingly enough. We had this whole trip and training camp planned for Lanzarote where there are a lot of the foreign teams training, but between Brexit and Covid that has pretty much fallen apart.

Before the year end Stu was going to drive our kit to Lanzarote, but ended up at another one of our British team bases in Vilamoura (Portugal). Then the plan was changed to go to Vilamoura. We booked flights and accommodation one day. Cancelled it all the next. Then there was the possibility we could travel, so we rebooked everything.

We are very lucky with the organisations and relationships that are in place between the team, the British Olympic Association, British Airways, Portugal Border Authorities, the list goes on. Between everyone, and with a lot of work behind the scenes, there was a chance we could go and get some training in in Europe, but we still arrived at the airport very nervous.

Thankfully everything came together and we are now in Portugal, but I am well aware how lucky I am to be in this position. I honestly feel this is our best route to performing at the Olympic Games so for everyone to come together to help make it happen for us is truly humbling.

Since we have been here we have been out on the water and done some races and checked in with some rivals to see where we currently stand – something which is very important in sailing. You generally work on what you think you need to on your own then check in to see how that has improved your sailing against the fleet, but this past year we haven’t had that opportunity to do that so this trip is so important for us.

At the moment and at this early stage I feel we are in a good place with our sailing considering everything that has happened. Going forward, in an ideal world, we would go to Lanzarote and meet up with our Swiss training partners and test ourselves against some other strong European teams – but as we all know this currently isn’t an ideal world.

As a person and an athlete my nature is to get a bit frustrated if there was a competition on and I wasn’t there. It would get to me a bit. This past year has really taught me that you can’t focus on the things you can’t do and you need to really focus on what you can. And this is really going to help in what looks like could be another year with a level of uncertainty in it.