Robert Scheidt is a Laser Legend

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The word legend is distributed too liberally, but Robert Scheidt is a Laser Legend. At a time when the other 46-year-olds on the circuit are coaching, the Brazilian is here competing again and has more than one eye on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Tokyo (Enoshima) would be Scheidt's seventh Olympics. As well as winning 12 world championships between 1995 and 2013, he won the Laser in 1996 and 2004 Olympics Games (he is the only person to have beaten Ben Ainslie in an Olympics) and took silver in 2000, before transferring to the Star and winning a silver in 2008 and bronze in 2012. Back in the Laser for Rio 2016 he announced his retirement from Olympic competition after finishing just outside the medals in fourth. He is more than a decade older than the other experienced racers here, and twice the age of many in the top 10, but he is still pushing hard and is in the gold fleet with three top 10 finishes out of the six races up to Wednesday. Here he talks about why and how he is aiming for the Olympics, the Laser fleet being more open than ever and why he likes Hyères - now.

Are you taking it race by race or do you have a plan?
I have plan. I just started back after three years off after the Rio Games. I knew it was going to be hard in the beginning, that I was going to feel the lack of rhythm, especially racing at this high level. My first regatta was Palma a few weeks ago, I finished 12th there, wasn't too bad. Still a few things to work on and obviously this week I'm still struggling with a few things, especially the starts, but the idea for Palma and this regatta was to get back into the game, see what my weaknesses were and then in the next few months try and work on them to be better prepared for the Worlds.

You retired from the Olympics after Rio, but is Tokyo 2020 definitely the plan now?
I'm still thinking about the (Olympic) Games. I still have to qualify, because the Brazilian federation put a very high standard on qualifying the sailor - top 18 at the Worlds or top 10 at the Test Event. With the level that the Laser fleet is at the moment it's not so easy, but I'll be working on that.

 And you wouldn't be here if you didn't think you had a chance for the Olympics…
Of course. I knew that after a long absence, I was going to feel some weaknesses in some areas, that's normal, but I still believe that I have a chance. My body is still feeling good and I'm still motivated and I'm still enjoying the game, so it's nice to be able to have another chance. It's probably my last chance. Hopefully I can qualify.

What prompted the decision over the last three years?
I did a few other things. I sailed the 49er for a year and I did a big boat, TP52 circuit last year and I'm also a father of two children, so pretty busy with that. Last year I started sailing Laser a little bit and some of my friends said: 'hey, you should come back, you should try it.' I slowly started to train again and decided to go to Palma and come here and give myself another chance.

What are your memories of Hyères over more than 20 years?
It was a regatta that I took a long time to win, I was already world champion for some time and for some reason I couldn't click here, I was getting second or third. I remember the first time I won here was 2004, so it took me a while, but I had some crazy days here, really windy and there were regattas here that were really extreme,  but I enjoy it a lot, it's one of the best spots in Europe and I really enjoy coming.

And it's strong fleet…
People are looking for the quality of the fleet and the race management these days, so they know this is a good venue and once they see the entry list and so many good sailors it's worth coming.

And how does it work with you and Ginataré (Volungevičiūtė, Lithuanian Laser silver medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games and 2012 world champion) in terms of planning your time?
Well, it's great that she can stay with the kids most of the time, she's a great mother and she understands the game and how much compromise we need to have to do this at a high level, but when I'm home, I'm home. I try to stay with my kids as much as I can and have quality time with them and they understand that sometimes I'm away and ten days out, but then I'll be home. And where we live (Lake Garda) it's a pretty good place because we can do some very good training and have a great quality of life with the kids.

What do you think of the Laser fleet?
Like in every sport things evolve, there are new training methods, there is better coaching, the athletes get fitter, they eat better, they nail all the details for high performance. In the last 20 years it's been a slow but continuous progression of athletes racing at the best level that they can. You see that these guys are real athletes now and you see a day like yesterday, some of the guys really had an edge, that's the challenge. I'm still happy that I can still do it at a decent level, but of course I want to get better too. 

Have you noticed that progression in yourself of getting fitter through the decades if you put yourself up against the 20-year-old you?

Of course age counts, but also the changes in your life, because once you have a family that also changes perspective a little bit, you will devote more time for children and you won't be thinking about Laser sailing 12 hours a day. You will still give your best, but it changes your perspective a little bit. That in some ways hurts your performance a little. But it's life and once you have a family you want to enjoy it as much as you can. I will try to manage my time as well as possible and I think sailing is a sport that is unique, because of course fitness is important, but it's not the only thing, it's a strategic sport, there's a lot about the mind. Regattas last a long time, six days, so it's all about being consistent, so experience counts in this game.

We've got two Olympic champions here, who do you think are the stars to come in this fleet? Who will put the biggest pressure on Tom (Burton, Australia's Rio 2016 Olympic Champion)?
If you look at Laser sailing for the last few years nobody has dominated. A few years ago there was Tom dominating, I had my era, a good span of time that I pretty much dominated with Ben (Ainslie, Britain), but right now the game is pretty open. You can talk about Sam Meech (New Zealand), who I think is the most consistent guy in all conditions, but you've got guys like Matt Wearn (Australia), who's flying, Luke Elliott (Australia) and then you've got the experienced guys like Jean-Baptiste (Bernaz, France) and Nick Thompson (Britain). There's many of them. I'm sure when it comes to the Worlds, so many good Australians and so on, there will be like ten people who could win.

Have you ever seen the Laser this open?
Probably not, it's the time where a lot of guys can do well in regattas, depending on the conditions.



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