Georgia and Antonia Lewin-LaFrance could host a DIY show with the skills they picked up on their sailing trip.
From dismantling their 49er FX boat to put it in a shipping container and pinching a dime that comes with being Olympic sailing hopefuls, the Chester sisters are learning on the fly.
Perhaps the most important thing they discovered when launching their full-time campaign is that they know they can compete internationally. A third place at the recent European Championships was a big confidence boost for them.
The European championship which took place in Thessaloniki in Greece, with a solid fleet despite many competitors, took a break after the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“Basically in sailing, the Olympics are top, the worlds are second and the Europeans are the third most competitive regatta,” said Georgia, who is finishing her degree in civil engineering at Queens. “Our goal was to get into the top 10 to see where we were. We didn’t do too much international competition.
“The week went pretty well for us. We continued to climb higher and higher each day. We were adapting to the race, learning and performing better and better.
Antonia said they also learned how to run in light winds and cope with everyday life.
“It was a very long race, six days of racing,” said 24-year-old Antonia. “The fleet was 37 boats, regardless of the fact that most of the Olympic fleet was absent. There was very good competition. Some good countries that have real strong training groups.
“It was a good test of our training. Certainly, was a marathon of an event. The middle conditions, with the light winds, weren’t really what we like to sail in the most. It was testing. We are exhausted right now.
The experience helps prepare the sailing sisters for the world championships in Oman in November.
“For us, this is our first year in the new Paris 2024 cycle and having a good result does not change our performance targets,” said Georgia, 21. “It’s a confidence booster. We figured out how to sail the boat in lighter winds, which helped build confidence. But our goals are still process driven and not so much performance goals for worlds.
The sisters are aiming to qualify for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed the opportunity to try and secure a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games earlier this summer.
Although they did not have a solid training base, they participated in the first Canadian trials. The second round of trials did not take place due to the pandemic. Ali ten Hove and Mariah Millen represented Canada and finished 16th overall.
“We weren’t sailing full time at the time, but we decided to go to the event to get the experience of being at the trials,” said Antonia, a 2019 Dalhousie University graduate with a double major in biochemistry, molecular biology and microbiology in immunology.
“We didn’t do very well because it was our first major event. Then COVID came along and we started training full time and really progressing, but the second event was postponed. It was supposed to happen again a year later and it was cancelled. So the first event decided which boats went to Tokyo.
With competitions around the world closed for most of 2020, the sisters took time to work the boat and get used to the rigors of a full-time campaign in hopes of a second round of Olympic Trials.
“We were able to focus on this practice for a long time, without distraction, without the pressure of racing,” Georgia said. “If we hadn’t had that training, I don’t know if we would have been in that position to be sure we would win the trials.”
The sisters also trained under the watchful eye of coach Krysztof Kierkowski. His international experience was a plus for the sailors.
“Our coach has been with us since day one and has played an important role in everything that happens in our campaign. He is there every step of the way,” said Antonia de Kierkowski, who sailed for Poland during two Olympic Games.
“He has two Olympics under his belt as a 49er sailor and two as a coach. He was working for the Norwegian Federation, but then came to Canada in 2018, the day we started training. We are really lucky.
After the European Championships, the sisters took advantage of the time out to visit friends. Georgia was in the UK and Antonia in the Netherlands. They return to Chester on Monday to continue their training for the world championships.
“We were in Europe from January to June, six straight months of training,” Georgia said. “It was a good push for us.”
Home training brings the benefit of preparing for the 2022 World Championships to be held in St. Margarets Bay (August 31-September 5).
“The 2022 world championships will take place where we train,” Antonia said. “Anyway, we’re taking away information that’s solid for us.”
One of the benefits of racing from home next year will be a break on their wallet. The trip to Oman in November will be an expensive undertaking.
Olympic hopefuls have discovered the importance of connecting with other teams to reduce shipping costs.
“Our boat has to be put in a container if it’s going to cross oceans,” Georgia said. “It usually involves finding other teams because getting a single container is very expensive. After the regatta ended in Greece, we filled the boat with the Dutch team, the Danish team, the American team and a another Canadian team.
“All our equipment was dismantled, stuffed like sardines. It’s a big learning curve to ship things with taxes, import fees, and export fees. How to move your boat can sometimes be a big headache.
The sisters estimated their 2021 campaign would cost over $80,000.
“Our campaign is fully funded by our Federation, Sail Canada, and by private donations and sponsorships. Fundraising is a very big part of what we do. In the past we have held fundraisers and due to COVID we did not have one last year. But we received more support from the Canadian Sport Center Atlantic. They really want to support sailing. They have been amazing.
The Lewin-LaFrance sisters receive the support they need to succeed. They are on a roll after the European Championships and are looking forward to their future.
“We are both very excited about what happened in Greece,” Antonia said. “It was good for our self-confidence with the work we’ve been doing over the past few years.”