Sometimes, we connect with our passion by chance or because someone initiates us in that area unexpectedly. This is the case of Joel Rodríguez, ILCA 7 sailing specialist and Olympic sailor in Tokyo 2020.
This Canarian, from Las Palmas, began his story with regattas when he was 9 years old. This island is known for its great sailing tradition. This, together with the sporting values that Joel’s parents instilled in him and his brother, created the perfect breeding ground for the latter to start sailing. Soon, Joel followed in his footsteps and what was initially a hobby they enjoyed on weekends eventually became his life.
«I remember that I enjoyed myself a lot outside and inside the sea, because the atmosphere that surrounds sailing is very goodJoel tells Think Big. The Las Palmas sailing club is made up of various professionals in regattas with honors and even Olympic or world medals. Joel knew that his place was there and he was clear that he wanted to be like those people: train, travel, compete, etc. And he did it.
A hard fought and quick arrival at the ILCA 7 category
This sport is mainly made up of boating and sailing. As the sailors vary in weight, they change sails, which does not mean they change boats – although it is still a decision between the athlete and the team. For example, Within the ILCA 7 category there are three types of sails:
- Laser 470 dinghy sailis the smallest candle and is aimed at children or youth.
- Radial laseris the women’s Olympic sailing.
- ILCA 7formerly known as Laser, is the men’s Olympic sailing.
In Joel’s case, the sail change happened without waiting too long. After his first podiums in the Laser 470 category, where he won the Spanish Children’s Championship and managed to qualify for the European and World Championships, he would rise to the ILCA 7 category. «Thanks to this, I was able to reach the higher categories earlier to be able to compete with sailors older than meJoel confesses.
Podium: support to fight for the Olympics
In most sports, the professionals who practice it struggle day after day to be able to continue dedicating themselves to what they really like. However, there are sports that do not have as much visibility and athletes cannot live from it. Reason why they need scholarships that allow them worry about the economic part and being able to focus on elite sport.
Thus, in 2014, Joel received a call that would mark a before and after in his career as a sailor. Precisely in that year, the Podium Scholarship Program was launched to support young promises of Spanish Olympic sport, developed by Telefónica and the Spanish Olympic Committee. This support allows 88 athletes to fight for their Olympic dream.
«If it had not been for Podium, it would not have been possible to dedicate my life to sailingJoel admits. Between training and competitions he finds time to study Sports Science and Physical Activity at the Catholic University of Murcia (UCAM). Although he is clear that, for the moment, his focus is sailing and that is what he does.
A long awaited Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Between training and competitions came the Olympics. Sailing, unlike other sports, has a different classification method. First you have to classify the country individually, by Olympic categories. Once the country is inside, the Federationdetermines the rules for the selection of the person that represents the country.
This is how Joel managed to qualify for Spain in the Tokyo Olympics with a ninth place in Portugal, where there were about 150 boats. Spain was the first non classified country to qualify and thanks to this good result, it got a place to be the representative of Spain in the ILCA7 7 category. «All your life fighting for that dream and when you achieve it, it’s incredible“, bill. From that moment on, Joel knew that his focus and all his efforts were in the Japanese country.
Three months later, the Spanish Olympic team of sailors landed in the Olympic village. The sailing athletes they do not share a villa with the rest of the Olympianssince the sailing venue is located in an area where you can sail, in this case, it was held on the island of Enoshima.
Joel remembers that, on the opening day, they went to the Olympic village, located in the center of Tokyo, and that day he really lived the experience of the Olympics: «at the opening the basketball team was cheering on all the athletes with songs; In the dining room, people surrounded Djokovic asking for photos … ».
Olympic sailing: how regattas work
The days that followed were of work and training to be as well prepared as possible for the regattas. The Olympic format is the same as that used in the rest of the competitions. This consists of 10 regattas to be carried out in 6 days. During the first 5 days the sailors make 2 starts. The way to score is as follows: a first position adds one point and a tenth place is 10 points. Thus, until the sixth day, when the final is held with the top 10 classified. In these regattas the score is double, that is, for a first there are 2 points and for a tenth, 20. The score of every day is added and thus the classification is obtained.
The duration of each regatta is far from the weather conditions of the day. In general, on a day with moderate wind it can take approximately three and a half hours to do the 2 races. «Less than that time is very complicated“, Explain. But, the duration varies constantly. The sailors cannot compete with a minimum wind below 9 knots, 5 kilometers per hour of wind and with a maximum above 25 knots, around 45 or 50 kilometers per hour of wind. When these casuistries do not occur, they have to wait to see if the wind increases or decreases, reaching waits of between 7 and 9 hours.
Next challenge: the 2024 Paris Olympics
Finally, Joel ranked sixteenth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “It was a very special regatta. Sailors are not used to media attention and having journalists asking you how things went is very special«, he confesses.
This canary is a promise of sailing that is clear that it wants to reach the top. His competitive, self demanding and constant spirit is leading him to be among the best in the world in this sport. He is clear that he wants to fight to go to the 2024 Paris Olympics: «for me the challenge for Paris is to raise the level to be able to fight for a medal«, assures