October 28 - November 3, 2012: Issue 82 

Commodore Rob Curtis and Victor Kovalenko

Nina Curtis 

Olivia Price 
Lucinda Whitty 

Leisel Tesch 

Daniel Fitzgibbons 

Tim Lowe 

Tommy Spithill 

Dave Smith, K4 Gold Medallist  

 RPAYC's Josh McKnight was Crowned 2012 Moth World Champion.

Andy Hudson; Andy was Head Coach and part of the crew of the Farr 30 and a World Champion in 2011 and 2012. 

Alyse Saxby - Silver medal, 420 Class, Special Olympics Beijing 2007 and Gold medal, 420 Class, Special Olympics Athens 2011

 Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club Olympics Presentation 

21st of October, 2012

On Sunday 21st of September the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club at Newport had a special event to celebrate their Olympic champions with a presentation of past champions in Olympic and World Championships followed by a question and answer session by attending current Paralympian champions Leisel Tesch and Daniel Fitzgibbons and Olympians Nina Curtis, Lucinda Whitty and Olivia Price. Members and guests were welcomed by Commodore Rob Curtis on a glorious afternoon at a time slot that had been chosen specifically so the children members of the RPAYC could enjoy meeting the champions and hearing all they had to say.

Commodore Rob Curtis, proud father of Nina, spoke of some of the many champions RPAYC members who had represented Australia in either the Olympics or World Championships before introducing a special guest, Victor Kovalenko, head Coach since 2000 of the Australian Sailing Team. We share some extracts from this celebration;

Commodore Rob Curtis: The reason we’re here on a Sunday afternoon, apart from here being a nice place to be on a Sunday afternoon, is to allow our youth to be part of this. They’re here and listening; a couple of things I’ll say; Follow your dreams. Take opportunities when they come and … reality can wait until later.
We do have a very special guest, I’ve mentioned Victor, he’s going to come and say a few words to us. We had the opportunity to go down to the Harbour Yacht Club just before Nathan and Malcolm went to the Olympics in Athens. Victor gave a speech that was fantastic; he’s a fabulous motivationalist ...he wins medals for Australia…ladies and gentlemen… Victor Kovalenko

Victor Kovalenko:
First of all I would like to congratulate all of you on your success. We are squad number 1 in Australia and we are team Number 1 in the world. A lot of people ask me what was the secret of our country’s success; I answer all of us want to keep going until we have success. Patience is a key to our success and this was backed up by the critical mass of everyone; coaches, trainers, boat builders, it’s all of us who have created this success. On top of this we have had the support of everyone in the community; this is critical mass of all of you, of this place, of your passion, of your hearts. It’s really our success, it’s all of us at every Olympics coming back again and again until we have success. We here say, “ We will build boats and race them wherever you find them!”

It’s all those sailors and you who follow us who are all working very hard in some way, supporting the teams financially, maybe giving them advice, here there are a lot of big names, you know how to win; you are winners of World Championships, you are winners of Sydney to Hobart, the most difficult race. All the time you have been thinking of the future and building and now you have many great sailors coming from your yacht club; Olympic gold medallists, the big medal, and also you are rich with potential as they (the girls) are so hungry to bring you the gold medal. You ask them, we will do this!

We were ready in all classes, it was visible, in sparkling eyes, in the smiles of the sailors; we were coming to the Games ready to be the winners. We were coming with one goal; to be team Number One in the World.

Thank you very much for your support. Thank you for supporting all of these young kids who are sailing in your Youth Program, in your Match Racing program, for investing them with ‘heart’. We have proved to the world that Australia is not just a big place, a big island surrounded by ocean, but also that this fantastic strong country, with strong people with big hearts and lots of class, and who have crossed the world many times to stand up when our flag was raised, and we will do this again and again. Thank you very much for and to your club. Congratulations to all of you personally and let’s work one more time for a win!

Cmdr. Curtis; one of the platforms I’ve been working on during my time at the club is our youth, our centreboard program, our training and our Youth Development. We’ve actually been very lucky to have a short video which came about through Robert McClelland going over to San Francisco. This is the sort of thing that our Youth Development Program leads to…

This introduction preceded a video of James Spithill, currently in America working on the America’s Cup who not only sent a personal message but also shared a snippet of his own dunking in San Francisco Bay on October 17th to show the girls how easy it is to end up in the water; “Hello everyone at the club it sounds like it’s going to be a big night of celebration and I wish I was there to celebrate with you guys. On behalf of the team I want to congratulate Nina, Daniel and Leisel. Obviously Leisel’s pretty much part of the club now. Obviously this was a fantastic result and we were watching it live.

Dean Curtis (brother of Nina) was in this video too and caused another cheer to rise from those gathered.

Commodore Curtis introduced the RPA coach Tommy Spithill who was the interviewer of the Olympians and Paralympians; Nina Curtis and teammates Olivia Price and Lucinda Whitty, and Daniel Fitzgibbons with Leisel Tesch.

Tommy: Since these guys have been so successful at the Olympics every Australian sailing course has been full. This afternoon I asked around to see what questions people would like to ask our winners and people came up with; How did it feel to win? Is the medal heavy? What would you have felt if you didn’t get a medal? Where did you start sailing? And…Can you do the gangham style dance?

Who would like to take the first one?

Lucinda: it was very exciting, very lucky and great at the end standing on the podium was beyond our wildest dreams. And yes, the medal is heavy.

Tom: what would you have done if you didn’t get a medal?

Nina: it would have been disappointing, a case of back to the drawing board and try again. I guess coming away with a silver medal was great but we’re still going back to the drawing board in a way to try again.

When did you start sailing?

Leisel: Yesterday with you! No, I have to take my hat off; Dan tracked me down, with Tim Lowe, who at that stage was one of the passionate volunteers and a really great supporter. Tim Lowe went on to be Head Coach and is the reason we won this gold medal 20 months later. Just as a quick side tack here; I lived on and grew up on the shores of Lake Macquarie where everyone’s next door neighbour had a Laser or a windsurfer and shared the love so I actually learnt to use these on Lake Macquarie when I was a little tacker and then we went through a program of relentless sailing for about 18 months before I was given this thing to wear around my neck.

Where/when did start sailing and competing in races at our club?

Nina: I started sailing when I was five or six and my first sailing was on Lake Macquarie. Then when I was six or seven I took lessons were here at BYRA at Bayview. I then went to Avalon Sailing Club for their team but Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club had their eye on me and drew me in with their Match Racing Program when I was 15 years old. I joined up with Nicky Souter, who’s also from the club, and that’s when I had the chance to compete and we won our first National Championships when I was 15.

How has the support been from the Club over all these years?
Nina: People have been so excited for me. I heard when we got back to the coach, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me “You know the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club is going off at the moment; there were 200 people there.” Hearing that made it such a special night for me, to hear so many people are behind you. I’m really proud to say I’m a Royal Prince Alfred girl.

What were your goals coming into the Olympics?

Lucinda: obviously going in, we wanted a gold medal. We were excited to race, every day when we got up we looked forward to racing. It was nerve racking to be honest but you train for that and learn how to relax.

With all the lead up events you do get time to deal with those emotions. How did it feel for you Olivia to go through your races undefeated?

Olivia: I guess we went there hoping to win each race but realistically you know that may not happen. We were stoked to win all and place first for the qualifying series. That was unreal for us. It really boosted our confidence for the semi-finals.

Tommy: I can tell you that back at the club here we had all the scores and results up on the board and everyone would come past the offices and ask “How are they doing? How are they doing?”. There was a little shrine going with newspaper clips.

When we had that huge crowd upstairs here watching the medal races we saw how choppy and windy it was. How was it out there; was it really that bad or were you just putting on faces to gain sympathy (laughter from audience) and it really wasn’t that big; What speed of wind were you sailing in that day?

Nina: It was in excess of 25 knots, sometimes more but never anything less then 20 knots. Going into Weymouth we spent a lot of time there in former years so we knew the area quite well and were prepared for those conditions. In that part of England you do get massive seas but I don’t think we saw waves like that in our lead up training, but we were prepared for it as we’d done a fair bit of in those conditions. The Elliot is a great boat but it was pretty wild downwind in those conditions. You could see the spinnaker stretching between normal speed to bullet straight away. It definitely made those downwind legs exciting. Our technique in the racing was tacking downwind so it added a layer of complexity to our racing but we had the best day of racing. We had a ball.

Tommy: hold on a Jacko’s (child) dying to ask a question; ok mate; what have you got?

Jacko: Who fell in the water?

Olivia: That was me.

Tommy: while we’re on that; Nina I noticed in the footage, and I know when one of the young sailors falls in the water here I’m reaching for them with two hands and huffing and puffing, you basically did a single lift and almost threw her over your shoulder. Have you been spending some time in the gym?

Nina: Yes. On a serious note we’ve got a great fitness instructor who has worked with us closely over the long years. I had a little joke with him at the aftermath of the presentation about how I didn’t fall apart; we were all in the clear having prepared, perhaps not prepared so much for that but prepared for everything else.

Tommy: I guess your training kicked in then and you went back into your routine before the next race; clean slate, another race, take it on?

Nina: There’s a lot of respect that goes to Olivia to come back after that race. You can imagine that the water is so cold in Weymouth and for her to come back so strong after being in that water takes a lot of inner and mental strength.

Tommy: Absolutely. Yes, we were all very impressed. Ok Nina, I’m going to hammer you with a couple of tough questions now; apologies to our other guests, but just for a second.

Nina, the media has labelled yourself and Dave here, winning gold in the men’s K4, the ‘Golden Couple’; what’s your take on this?

Nina: Tommy, I believe you have labelled us ‘the Golden Couple’.

Tommy: No I went online, to the Sydney Morning Herald and it was there…

Nina: Ok, we’ll get Dave to stand up (applause and laughter from audience)

Tommy: OK, we might ask this one and Dave put me up to this one as well; I guess one of the things we need to talk about is with a campaign like this there’s a financial toll and you’re running on the smell of an oily rag, to pay for flights and get everything you need but we hear there’s something, back in Australia, you forgot to do that is relating to a motor vehicle; and this is also something I read in the Sydney Morning Herald; can you explain?

Nina: You’ve really done your research Tommy.

Tommy: Yep.

Nina: unfortunately you’re now going to hear a sob story. We got home and had a function to attend for family and friends so we jumped in my car, as you do, and got pulled over by a really cranky copper and my car was two days out of registration; and I cried and told him about the medal and just getting back…
Tommy: I hear you tried to put the medal on him…

Nina: Then I got my mum to write a letter, she writes the best letters.. “To The Courts of This land…can you please give a reprieve…

Tommy: Yes, sounds like a very good thing…
(words lost amongst too much laughter)

Nina: but that didn’t work…

Tommy: I want to get to Dan and Leisel next so; girls, I do agree with what Rob said (Commodore Curtis) in that we were all very proud in watching your races unfold and the way you came through and here comes Rio.

Nina: I just want to thank you all very much for coming today, it means a lot to me, to all of us. I think I speak on behalf of everyone up here when I say we’ve had such a lovely reception and want to say thank you to the club for all the years you’ve supported us.

Tommy: Dan and Leisel; firstly Leisel. As Rob touched on one of your previous endeavours was far from sailing; this isn’t your first Olympics?

Leisel: Yes, I was a mad sailor on Lake Macquarie and a sportsperson as a basketballer. When I was 19 I came off my bike and broke my back. During the two months when I was lying in bed, and didn’t know if I was ever going to walk again, Judy Prince, my physio noticed I was getting into basketball from a small board and ball a friend brought me, and asked if I’d like to get into the basketball team. So they took me into that basketball team and for twenty years they kept me there! I got back from Beijing and was asked in 2009 to participate in the Sydney to Hobart Initially I was a little bit unwell ... Two weeks after that another old hand asked if I’d like to come for a Twilight Sail on 54ft yacht on Sydney Harbour and I said “Life!”  but got there and there’s a camera and person there asking “How does it feel to be a triathlete?” and I said “Not. We’re all athletes. And that’s the thing we are all athletes.”

Tommy: did anyone watch that great documentary on SBS? I saw in one scene that one of the things you have to do is learn how to swim under the boat; you have people who are blind and all sorts of different disabilities, and you have to learn how to, if the boat did turn over, get out.

Leisel: it was pretty full on for a young basketballer out there, or a volleyballer; we can talk to each other. Out there it’s different, but in all stages of our preparation learning to swim under the boat was probably the easiest. I can tell you that a blind sailor is probably the best sailor at night!

Tommy: for three years people have been seeing you training here. How has it been sailing out of the RPAYC?

Daniel: It’s been great to be based in this club which I can say, having experienced so many other sailing facilities around the world, has great experienced people who have welcomed and supported us. The waters out here are so secret and can be so like a jewel one moment and so tricky the next or all of these at once…

Tommy: With the SKUD Program, the logistics and the shore team, it’s quite complicated; get the boat the boat in the water, use the crane to get yourself in the boat and the SKUD as well being such a technical boat explains some of the help you had…

Daniel: we had Tim Lowe and the ABS but Tim mostly working 24/7 on some of the difficulties we faced. We have to take our hats off to him.

Tommy: Dan, In Beijing you won a silver medal, and told Leisel you’d won a silver medal and a bronze as well; what’s the secret ingredient to bringing back the gold?

Daniel: it was a whole team effort, starting here at the RPA but everyone all along the way, as well as Leisel’s attitude. But I’d have to say it was the whole team, everyone involved.

Tommy: Finally, I heard there was a bit of controversy during one leg; Leisel, you got into trouble for sledging the Pommies; were they a bit soft or what was happening there?

Leisel: well, on a performance boat you have to keep sitting on your seat and when I saw the opposition boats and saw they weren’t sitting on their seats I’d call out “get on your seat!”. After the fourth race of them doing this they made a complaint and poor old Fitzy had to put up with all of this. At any rate, my mum had just passed away and I was pretty upset anyway but it ended up that they called me into the jury and they told me I’d been reported for harassing the Poms and I was banned from trash talking on the course; I guess it’s a hangover from the basketball when we always had to help the referee…

Tommy: Yes, that Aussie ‘staring at you’ gaze in competition can be deadly! Who’d like to take this; what did it feel like being on the podium?

Olivia: For me it was absolutely unreal. There aren’t even words to describe how proud I was; smiling, tearing up. It was an amazing experience.

On Tuesday 23rd of October Paralympic gold medallist Leisel Tesch received the keys to Gosford City. On Friday evening, 26th of October Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty won the Female Sailor of the Year Award at the 2012 Australian Yachting Awards in Sydney. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch were awarded the Disabled Sailor of the Year category, the second year in a row they have been recognised for their great athletic abilities on water.

Final words must go to Rob Curtis, Commodore of the RPAYC, who pointed out a now evident truth;

So to our Olympians and Paralympians; as well as your supporters here, the rest of Australia was following you and supporting you all the way. You have shown the rest of the world what Australians can do on top of the water and really led the way, so congratulations.

Colin Beashel who represented Australia from 1984 until 2004 in the Olympics and was Flag Bearer at 2004 Athens Opening Ceremony and part of the winning 1983 Australia II America's Cup crew.

Photos by A J Guesdon, 2012.