Interview with Anna Tunnicliffe, 2009 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year2009 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.) has had an incredible year, and she has no plans to slow down. Since winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the Laser Radial in 2008, Tunnicliffe has excelled in a variety of boats and multiple disciplines, proving her talent and versatility as an elite sailor. She has been a dominant force on the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit by winning three gold medals and a bronze, as well as the first-ever ISAF Sailing World Cup trophy in the Laser Radial. The US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics member has also proven to be a talented match racer, winning bronze medals at the ISAF Nations Cup and Sail for Gold. Women’s Match Racing will make its debut as an event in the 2012 Olympic Games, so Tunnicliffe had to choose which passion to pursue. She tells US SAILING why she'll match race in 2012 and shares what it takes to be one of the best sailors in the world.
US SAILING: How is the transition from sailing a single-handed boat to sailing with a crew?
Anna: I really enjoy sailing with a crew. In the Laser you’re by yourself; and in match racing, you have a team to sail with. I really like match racing because I really enjoy hanging out with the girls who I sail with. We’re all a bunch of good friends.
It’s different than being on a boat all by yourself, putting all the pressure on yourself. The pressure is spread out. If somebody is getting wound up, you have somebody else to crack a joke and calm you down and relax you again.
US SAILING: What do you like about match racing as opposed to fleet racing?
Anna: It’s shorter racing, and it’s much closer racing. You always have a chance to get back in it. But if you are doing badly, the race is over in 15 minutes, so it’s not the end of the world. You don’t dwell on it for an hour like you do in fleet racing.
It’s a completely different style of racing. It’s like a chess game on the water; it’s trying to out-smart your opponent, whereas in the fleet racing, it’s, “Okay, I’m getting a good start. And I’m going to the correct side of the course. But I have 20 minutes to figure out how I’m going to get from the start line that’s even with everybody to ahead of everybody.”
In a match race, you have your pre-start of four minutes to try and figure out how you’re going to out-smart them and get ahead of them off the line. And if you’re not ahead of them off the line, it’s very hard to figure out how you’re going to get around them, sail down, sail around them on the rest of the racecourse. When you’re racing really good people, if you’re behind, it’s really, really hard to get in front.
US SAILING: What is your biggest strength in match racing?
Anna: What I bring to the table on my team is probably the ability to make the boat go fairly quickly. I’ve sailed a bunch of boats over my career; and I’ve learned from them and can put that together into making a boat go fast. So I have two fabulous crew who help me out, [tell me] where to go and when to put a move on somebody. But it’s up to me to get the boat to go fast in a straight line.
US SAILING: What do you like most about sailing Laser Radials?
Anna: What I really like most about sailing the Radial is that it’s such a physical boat. Everybody has the same setup, the same rigs. It comes down to how much power you can hold in your sail and how hard you can hike and out-hike your competitors. For me, because it’s got that physical aspect in it, I just love it.
US SAILING: You are known for your incredible athleticism. Why is being fit important to you, especially when sailing a Radial?
Anna: Because the boat’s so physical, it’s so important to be fit and not have fitness as a disadvantage against one of your opponents. So then when you’re out in the water, you want to be the most fit so you can out-hike somebody and muscle your boat around. Then it’s a race between you, them and Mother Nature -- and how you can read Mother Nature better than they can; rather than someone being slightly stronger than you and having that as a disadvantage. You’re just eliminating one of the variables that could be there.
Because I’m generally not one of the bigger people in the fleet … it’s so important that I’m in the [best] shape I can be so that I can compete against somebody that’s slightly heavier than me and maybe not as fit. And then it can just be a race between reading the wind and the waves.
I think being fit is very important for sailing because we’re an athletic sport. [When] people think of sailing, they think of cruising around the bay with a beer in hand, but that’s not what we do. We are an Olympic sport, and we are athletes. It comes down to being an athlete.
US SAILING: What gives you an edge over other Olympic class sailors?
Anna: What gives me the edge is that I really, really enjoy being fit. I really enjoy working out and running and lifting weights and getting strong. So I think having that love for trying to get in shape and being in shape helps me out.
US SAILING: What is your fitness regime on- and off-the water?
Anna: My fitness regime off the water is spending six days a week in the gym lifting weights for probably an hour a day, focusing on different parts of the body every day. [I also do] anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half of cardio.
It’s like having a job: you wake up early, you go to the gym. You do it. Or you wake up early and go sailing. You do it. And then [you] just [need to] be really disciplined about making sure you go to both, [no] matter how tired you are.
US SAILING: When you’re not sailing, what other sports do you do?
Anna: I really enjoy running. Last year I did my first triathlon, which was a half Ironman. It was a great experience. So it was a lot of training and quite an emotional experience once I finished. I did really well and finished second overall. So I was super-excited about that. … I definitely want to keep doing more.