2006 was a landmark year for MUSLUBAS. It marked his tenth year on the ISAF Graded circuit, whilst off the water he celebrated his marriage in September. Significantly for his sailing dreams, he was also named by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as one of 20 sailors receiving funding from their Olympic Solidarity Scholarship programme.
To date the career highlight of MUSLUBAS, aged 29, was representing his nation at the Laser event in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, although a DNF in the final race saw him tumble down the leaderboard and eventually finish in 33rd. Since Athens he recorded his first ever victory in an ISAF Graded event at the 2005 Istanbul Sailing Week, a win he repeated in the following year. However, having missed out on the previous two Laser Worlds in Brazil and Korea, his ISAF World Sailing Ranking had slipped down to a two-year low of 80 at the end of 2006.
For MUSLUBAS, the news of the Solidarity award came at the perfect time, 'I received this good news when I was desperately looking for some support to be able to keep sailing and do another campaign for the Olympic Games in 2008. Although Istanbul Sailing Club is helping me a lot morally and financially for our Olympic goal, this scholarship has lifted the weight off from my club big time.'
Following the news of the scholarship and his wedding in September, MUSLUBAS set about his training programme, first concentrating on reaching the ideal weight and fitness level and then heading for Europe for two weeks to maximize his time out on the water.'I decided to join Team SailCoach and Trevor MILLAR for training because they give great logistic support and they have tons of experience in the circuit. I flew to France in November with my training partner Onur BILGEN [(TUR)], who is a very talented young sailor. We had great training there with other international athletes.'
Unfortunately MUSLUBAS had to cut short his training due to the death of his father-in-law. After a break following the bereavement in his family and with the year drawing to a close, he and his training partners from Istanbul Sailing Club organized two ten-day training camps in Datca, a small village on Turkey's south coast. Known for its strong and consistent breeze, Datca gave MUSLUBAS time in the windy conditions he can expect to find this July at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal.
The ISAF Worlds in Cascais are the principle focus for MUSLUBAS this year as he aims to qualify his nation for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition in the highly competitive Laser event. To achieve that aim he must finish within the top 29 nations in the Laser fleet (currently entrants from 62 nations are registered to compete). At the start of 2007 came an opportunity to measure his current standing in the Laser fleet at the Rolex Miami OCR, his first ISAF Grade 1 regatta since the Europeans almost six months ago. MUSLUBAS was unable to spend time training in Miami before racing got underway ? he explains, 'the budget was very tight and I was so grateful for even being there' ? and knew he was in for a big challenge on Biscayne Bay.
In a fleet of over 100 Laser sailors, including virtually all of the top stars in the class, MUSLUBAS put in a great performance. After a confidence boosting fifth in race 2, he posted consistent scores in the teens and low-twenties to finish in 20th overall. 'I had a very consistent series with a couple of great races,' he reflected. 'It was a great experience and training in the beginning of the season.'
Following Miami, MUSLUBAS headed to Greece with the rest of the Turkish team for the ISAF Grade 2 Athens Eurolymp Week. In a much smaller fleet and with the Greek competitors battling for national team qualification, Athens presented a different challenge to the racing in Miami.
'The conditions were difficult. We sailed four days in very light and tricky winds and I was able to manage a third place finish at the end. I was very happy and satisfied with my speed in these conditions as I had difficulties last year in the same conditions. After this regatta my confidence is very high and I feel more comfortable nowadays to readjust my spring season with my coach.'
After a positive start to the season, the biggest tests for MUSLUBAS now lie ahead.
'A long and difficult spring season full of races is ahead of us. The progress must continue and I must be in my best shape during the World Championship in Cascais to be able to qualify my country for Beijing 2008. To achieve that we have to make perfect plans as our resources are very limited.'
As MUSLUBAS explains, the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship can make all the difference to the success of his campaign. As the margin between success and failure at the top level of Olympic Class racing continues to narrow, the extra training and competition the additional funding brings is crucial.
'On one hand our sailing federation is going through tough time, as with government policy we get less and less money every year. On the other hand my club, Istanbul Yelken, has another 50 sailors with some kind of expectations for this season, so it would be very selfish to ask for more from them. At this point Olympic Solidarity comes in. This scholarship gives me a little freedom in the situations where I cannot see an exit. In other words, when I prepare a budget there are always some parts of it missing and I can use the scholarship to fill the missing parts, and avoid from falling behind my schedule.'
With less than six months until Cascais, and little over a year until the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition kicks off in Qingdao, China, the pressure on Olympic sailors everywhere is growing exponentially. With a record breaking 74 nations registered for Cascais, the competition has never been tougher to grab one of the precious Olympic spots. As MUSLUBAS says, 'Consistent and continuous training means everything in all sports and Olympic Solidarity gave me this.'
With his results at the start of the year, MUSLUBAS is providing the perfect evidence to support this maxim, and will be a name to watch in the European season ahead.
Twenty sailors have been selected for Olympic Solidarity scholarships for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Find out more at www.sailing.org/olympicsolidarity.