From January 12, 2012 until the London Olympic games in early August, Amanda Clark of Shelter Island and sailing partner Sarah Lihan took only 50 days off from training to sail in the women’s 470 competition.
Team USA finished ninth in the competition’s medal race on Aug. 10 in Weymouth, U.K., missing out on the podium that teams from New Zealand, Great Britain, and the Netherlands got to stand upon.
But now that all is said and done over five months later, Clark shared stories and reflections on her 2012 Olympic experience with an audience of about 50 people at the Shelter Island Library Friday night.
Growing up on Shelter Island amongst baymen, Clark, 30, spent much of her life on the water. She said she’d always dreamed of competing in the Olympics as a kid and saw the dream become a feasible reality as a teen in sail competitions.
“It was incredible what we accomplished,” she said. “The whole experience was so rewarding — you think you’re at the top of your game but you learn so much even during the race. I had a year and a half of training with a new coach and a new partner, all things that could have derailed a campaign, but we were able to overcome and build on the experience.”
Here are a few highlights of Clark’s presentation Friday night:
Traveling to train:
“Last February, we had our last day of practice in the U.S. We would have loved to train domestically, but 470 sailing is mainly in Europe. We had to pack everything into 40-foot containers when we traveled and at the end of the day, you’re covered in dirt — it’s one of my least favorite parts of Olympic campaigning. We had three boats — one in the U.S., on that traveled between the U.S. and Europe and one that lives between Australia and the U.S. We raced in our own boat, with our own equipment, which was important. Hulls, sails and equipment in 470 boats are similar but the way we lay them out is quite different.”
Training in March with the Navy Seals in Colorado:
“There is something special about athletes but something even more special about Navy Seals — it’s amazing what we share in determination and problem-solving, and we had only a small glimpse of what they do up close. They used a lake as the main thing to try to shake up. It froze at night and had to be in the low 40s during the day. Between doing push ups and following directions, we had to submerge ourselves and then get back into line. We went in and out six times, and that took a lot of athletes out. I remember I took my dry top off but they made me put it back on, shivering to the bone, and to put that wet muddy thing back on was one of the hardest moments of that experience.”
European 470 sailing is cold, so the Navy Seals helped
“We spend a lot of time on the water being cold, doing what we do. A lot of time we spent in England was incredibly cold, even in August — they really don’t experience too much summer. Luckily, for everyone viewing the Olympics, the sun did come out, but for us, that meant we got no wind … but one thing about working with the Navy Seals is that I could say, ‘I’ve done this before.’ I could be numb and shaking but I still have to complete the task given to me. I just tried to slow my breathing down and stop shaking and stick to the task.”
Arriving in London, opening ceremonies
“We were the first athletes to arrive as a team to London. It was a full day, they took you in for tailoring for the opening ceremony, each team had a different look and feel. It was very organized and quite pleasant. Bus trips from London to our satellite village in Weymouth never took the same amount of time — we took these looping tours of London, I’m not sure if it was on purpose but it was quite comical. We’d be excited to see Big Ben and Parliament, then we’d cross over these different bridges over the Thames and there they’d be again, stuck for three hours driving in traffic in central London …
“We got mostly thumbs up and a lot of good cheer as we walked into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. It seemed like every single athlete was 8-feet-tall and there was so much energy, all different types of energy. There were more sailors this year than in 2008, so we had more of a force. We all rotated behind the flag-bearer, jockeying for position and we were able to secure the front row … and then we got kicked out of the front row. The athlete carrying the flag was a fencer, so the front row was designated to all fencers. But we got the second row so that’s still really good.”
“Sarah and I were able to see gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, fencing, basketball — a lot of things, and all through the athletes’ entrance into all stadiums. Everyone was excited to have more athletes cheering for them, but at my height, I was definitely confused for a gymnast when we watched them warm up. It was fun and interesting to be able to go around to these different venues, we had a great time.”
“The sailing itself went by really fast, just incredible how quickly it moved. We spent so much time preparing to make sure that everything felt like a day-to-day activity. I felt excited, not nervous. I felt ready. There was very little we could do to change anything at that point. I was comforted to know we did our best to be prepared. We were always going out every day thinking about what we needed to do to win a medal. If we could have had a couple more things going our way and made a few less mistakes, we would have been on the podium. But everyone who won deserved it — it was a matter of who made the least number of mistakes. We made a few more. That’s how it goes. We sailed an absolutely disasterous medal race — made the wrong decision to split from the fleet, which didn’t work out for us. But otherwise, I’m very happy with how it all went.
The White House
“We got to go to Washington, D.C. in September to meet the President and the First Lady. It was amazing to watch him work, taking the time to shake the hand of every single athlete. He gave me a hug, and it was a real hug. I got a hug from the Vice President too, and he said he liked the color of my eyes and demanded to know what parent was responsible. I blamed my dad.”
“I just want to thank the community at this time for all the fundraising and support they have shown throughout. It’s been so important and really helped fuel us. Sarah is working toward another Olympic campaign … but I won’t be sailing in 2016. But I am motivated toward the next part of my life and am now involved in coaching sailing, coaching our top sailors for our next Olympics. I still have Go Team Sail and plan on expanding it, using the skills I’ve gained myself during Olympic campaigning and sharing with younger athletes. I’m also on the United States Olympic Committee. I want to be the voice for sailing athletes."