Contenders and teammates, a complex chemistry
Text: Vincent Gillioz
Living and sailing together, sharing an apartment, hours of training, a coach, equipment and ideas are not necessarily simple things when you have a common sporting objective. Nathalie Brugger and Manon Luther however face this reality as they both aim at the same goal, a place in Laser Radial at the London Games.
“We have set up our small training base in Palma, which is an ideal place to work, until the world championships next spring,” explained Manon Luther, during a brief trip to Switzerland this winter. “Competition between Nathalie and me is actually quite fierce and the closer the deadlines, the more aggressive I feel it becomes on the water,” adds the young St-Sulpice-born sailor. However, she concedes that despite this situation, their cooperation is extremely healthy. “We’ve seen a lot of each other in the last three years and I think that helps us both progress. We have things to bring to each other”. Yet, this ideal description should not suggest that cooperation goes beyond the training phases. Manon reminds us that as soon as she is racing, her partner becomes a competitor just like any other.
Nathalie Brugger, who represents one of the hopes of a Swiss medal for these Olympics, is just as positive even though her point of view differs on the assessment of the competition. “We have no secrets on the water and work really together,” explains Nathalie. And she adds: “Manon takes advantage of my experience and she’s a real training partner. It is very profitable for both of us. However, we still have our small secrets with respect to the physical preparation, which is equally important for performance”. The Fribourg sailor, who ranked sixth in Qingdao, still readily admits that the situation might be different if she really felt in danger. “I observed the French Sailing Federation and I have noted that it is much more complicated. Some girls may not be working as we are because they have too much to lose, their levels are too close.”
Manon Luther, aware that she is an outsider, knows that her chance will only arise in the event of her partner’s failure. “I don’t count on it but I have to be opportunistic. I have been preparing this project for three years. I know that I may be disappointed but today, I am giving everything I can and grabbing every opportunity”.
What the coach says
Olivier Terrol, the two women’s coach since the beginning of the year, also sees this situation in a very positive light: “Manon is the youngest and she must gain experience while Nathalie has more experience.” But she must train with someone. Nathalie is very open and willingly shares what she knows. I think that the situation is viable because the Swiss Olympic selection criteria are clear and mathematical. It is in fact THE condition for it to work. The one who gets the best results and presents the most chances to win a medal will be sent to the Games. It doesn’t work the same way with other federations where they may take into account less clear criteria, which can quickly spoil the atmosphere. As far as I am concerned, I knew the two athletes when I started to work with them and I knew it would work. I would never have taken on such a project just to manage an internal struggle.”
Another challenge in Laser Standard
For the men who compete in Laser Standard, the situation is a little less complex. Laser Standard contenders don’t train together. But there are two, or even three, hoping for a place in London. The biggest difference with the girls is that Swiss Sailing Team (SST) currently backs only Guillaume Girod. Christian Steiger and Christophe Bottoni **, who did not meet the Federation’s requirements in Australia this winter, therefore continue their preparation individually.
“I can hardly talk about internal competition because I have sailed very little with the other Swiss Laser sailors”, explains Guillaume Girod. And he adds: “We trained in Weymouth (UK), where I worked with Christian Steiger for three weeks. But the deadlines were far away. The cooperation was therefore very open”. The young sailor, who qualified for the series in Perth late 2011, does appreciate not having to handle such a situation. “If we were to be two, it would really be complicated because the selection is going to be a close call.”
The next races will be held in Hyères (Fr) at the end of April and in Boltenhagen (De) early May (see results on Skippers.tv SUI). To continue the adventure, the athletes must classify in the twelve best nations at least once out of the two meetings. The fight promises to be ruthless and no one intends to give an inch, regardless of who the competition is.
** Christophe Bottoni did not wish to comment on this subject and Christian Steiger could not be reached at the time of writing this article.