Giulia Conti will represent Italy at the helm of the Women's 470 dinghy in Qingdao and she's aiming for nothing less than the Olympic podium come August.
and Giovanna MICOL
from Italy are one of the leading contenders for medals in the Women's Two Person Dinghy event contested in the 470. They go to Qingdao as the world #2 crew in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and with Conti looking to make up for her Olympic disappointment in Athens.
Conti is a successful match race and Yngling sailor, and competed in the Yngling class at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. She sees her Athens 2004 campaign as a wasted opportunity because of the confusion that caught her not being prepared for the high pressure at the final of an Olympic quadrennial. After the Games of 2004, she gets a call from Giovanna. They team up, hire a sports psychologist, join the Navy and put every effort into their campaign for Beijing 2008.
Giulia Conti tells her story: "I did not have any clue of what participating in an Olympic Sailing Regatta would do with you…"
"Looking back at the Olympic Sailing Regatta of Athens 2004, I had no idea what I was doing, meaning I did not have any clue of what participating in an Olympic Sailing Regatta would do with you. Me, and my team mates had different moods and spirits. I did not feel okay at all. I wasted an opportunity,"
"In October after the Olympics, Giovanna called me, asking me if I wanted to sail 470s with her. My mind was empty at that time, but I agreed without thinking about it for a second. On the 28 December, we got onto Lake Garda for our first try-out in a cold winter 25 knots breeze. We capsized, ripped our jib, lost the spinnaker pole and had all odds against us. It seemed we had fun though because when we came from the freezing water, we both were enthusiastic and confident to set up a campaign onto Beijing 2008."
The Start Of The Campaign
"The Princess Sofia Trophy in 2005 was the first event we participated in. Our results were far from hopeful, which did not many good for people believing in us. When you start, you know that you have to pick a ticket and step back in line. We believed in ourselves and continued.
"To achieve your goals, and to even start thinking about having a chance for Olympic gold, you need support. That's financially, mentally, technically and training.
|Conti competing at the helm of the Italian Yngling in 2004
© MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
"In the first place I didn't want the situation on the way to Athens 2004 to repeat itself. We got a sports psychologist to support us, especially how to handle the pressure at major events. Still the financial, training and knowledge of 470 sailing remained as major issues. In January 2006 we joined the Italian Navy to have a chance to get into a military sports programme allowing us to train in the 470 beside our military duties, and have the basic costs of living provided for.
"It made me angry and I decided to do whatever it would take to show we were worth it."
Sailing For One Week, Navy Training The Other Week
"It was a very hard and exhausting period. We had to travel to Taranto in the south of Italy for army duties; marching, training and camping in the field for a week, and than get to Genoa to train in the 470 during the other week. This process repeated week after week and for months. You always are away from home and there if no time to rest. At the times we trained in Genoa, every support for training we hoped for was not here. We were totally on our own. We were not recognized as a team with potential for medals. It made me angry and I decided to do whatever it would take to show we were worth it."
In the summer of 2006, Giulia and Giovanna make progress, experience the results of hard work, and make it to the Medal Race at the 470 Worlds in Rizhao, to end the Championship in seventh place.
In December 2006, they win the Imperia Regatta in Italy, move on to win the Christmas Race in Palamos, Olympic Garda in early 2007, and hit their first win in an ISAF Grade 1 event at the Semaine Olympique in Hyères. At the Europeans that follow in Thessaloniki they put the pressure on reigning European Champions Stefanie ROTHWEILER
and Vivien KUSSATZ
to finally win their first medal in an International 470 Class Championship with a second place.
In the heavy conditions at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais they cannot keep up with the 470 Class leaders and end the Championship in sixth place. After the Worlds in 2007 there is a period of rest in the series of Olympic sailing events, and Giulia travels to St Petersburg in the USA to compete in the Rolex Osprey Cup, a famous women's match race event, to take home another medal just as she is used to every year.
In 2008, Giulia and Giovanna show high consistency taking top spots at Olympic sailing events. In January they start with a third place at Grade 1 event Sail Melbourne, and finalize the 470 Worlds held at the same venue with a silver medal.
Their names show high on top at every event that follows, and they win the Grade 1 Delta Lloyd Regatta before they head for China to set up their training camp at the Olympic venue.
Reaching Podium Places In Short Time
Not many sailors had such a flash start in the 470s, putting pressure on experienced top players in the 470 class and reaching podium places after such a short period. Best examples of such who managed to do so, are Sofia BEKATOROU
and Emilia TSOULFA
from Greece. They needed only about two years before they started ruling the Women's 470, and went on to win a record four consecutive World Championship titles and then the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games.
"Ohh, but no. We cannot be compared with them,"
says Giulia. "Sofia and Emilia were Goddesses. They claimed almost every major event to their names, and finally Olympic gold in 2004. Not to speak of receiving the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award for two times. We are far from that!"
|Giulia Conti and Giovanna Micol at the 2008 470 World Championship in Melbourne
© Sport the library / Jeff Crow
"I cannot really give a feasible reason what our strength is. We work hard, but everyone does that. Giovanna and I are on the same level of what we want to achieve. She is a very good sailor, accurate, and with a lot of passion. We try to optimize out mental well being. We live separate lives and do our own thing when we are not sailing, so at times we are in the boat, we really can set out our minds to racing.
"We are different types, I want to be the leader in our team and sometimes I get a little overenthusiastic. That's me. As long as I don't win, I'm not happy! We both know that and Giovanna can handle it. She also knows that I admire her for who she is and what we started together. We get along very well,"
The Advantage Of Having Top Teams In Both The 470 Men And Women In A Country
Sofia and Emilia once mentioned their advantage having an experienced Men's 470 top team in Greece at the time they started. They were able to train together and learn fast. Also Italy has a men's 470 team that belongs amongst the best two person dinghy sailors on the globe: Gabrio Zandona
and Andrea TRANI
, World Champions of 2003.
Giulia recognizes such advantages: "At the time we started sailing 470s, we were not really working together much, but when we started to produce good results, the relationship improved. Especially here in Qingdao we have been able to work with each other and we should have started that earlier. Because the 470 fulfils the two person dinghy event for both Men and Women, there is no stress of who is the best while training because you will never compete in the same race. It means that you can focus on making each other better and increase the chance of winning a gold medal for yourself, and for your country,"
"If you want to reach success in sports, you have to go deep and suffer."
While talking to Giulia, it's obvious that she is a woman who has set her mind to finish what she has started, driven by winning and using her experiences efficiently. She admires others who do the same. Passionate! Her way of talking is charming. She says what's on her mind, positive or negative, and always ends with a laugh.
Although the Women's 470 fleet is large and strongly represented by sailors from many nations, let's ask Giulia about her vision why fewer women than men participate, in any way at an International Championship. The numbers of entries speak for themselves.
"I really wouldn't know why relatively fewer women than men actively take part in the sailing sport. I love sports and especially tennis. It's the same there, but the lesser volume does not affect the quality. Women perform on high levels in sports, and watching a women's game can be just as attractive as watching a men's. My sports idols are Novak Djokovic [tennis] and Maja Poljak [Volleyball]!
"If you want to reach success in sports, you have to go deep and suffer. You have to make a lot of efforts and choose to let go of many joyful things in life. Maybe men are more "die-hards" by nature.
"The International Sailing Federation and the International 470 Class Association are doing a lot to stimulate women to actively take part in the sailing sport and its events. That's a very good thing," Giulia added.
An Athlete As An Investment In National Pride
The sport of sailing is becoming more professional. Sponsors and money become more involved if you want to reach success. Medals in sports become an important asset for the national pride of a nation, and so the athlete becomes an investment in national pride.
Giulia explains further: "Sailing is an expensive sport. We have no sponsors and we couldn't have gotten this far without the support of our Sailing Federation who pay our expenses.
"If you win a gold medal for Italy at the Olympics, the athlete gets rewarded with an amount of 340.000 euros in cash each. This is before taxes, which cuts off about half.
"Of course we would be very happy with such a reward, because you get something back of what you have put into it. Besides health, I cannot think of something that has more value as winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
"The only thing on my mind is the Olympic Sailing Regatta. The future after is nothing more than a black hole in my mind. The only thing I am aware of after the Olympics is that I will be at my sister's wedding in September in Sydney, Australia. One might think, Giulia's sister, an Italian girl in Australia, it must have something to do with sailing. But no, she is a real business women and she just bumped onto an Aussie while travelling around the world," she added laughing.
"My whole family has no sailing background at all. I have three sisters. My father used to be an airline pilot, my mother a flight attendant. What a coincidence, huh? And now the best part: I am afraid of flying!"