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Robert Scheidt was participating in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games for the fourth time but his eyes glistened in way as if it was the first time. In a green suit, a white hat and holding the Brazilian flag, an honour of a few in history, he was waving at more than 90,000 people at the Beijing Olympic Stadium and looking like a young beginner. But he was an Olympic bi-champion and a nine-time world Sailing champion.
The two gold medals and the two silver medals Scheidt has won since Atlanta 1996 have made him Brazil’ second greatest Olympic athlete of all times. To outpace sailor Torben Grael he will need to step on the podium at London 2012. Again, he is the frontrunner.
His eight world titles in the Laser category, the first in 1995 and two in the Star class have placed the Brazilian athlete on the top of the sport in the last two decades. To complete his medal collection, he wishes to be in a lane at the Guanabara Bay in 2016 and win at his home country. He will be 43 with the same boy’s soul.
Check out the interview:
Where were you and how did you feel when Rio de Janeiro was announced host city of the 2016 Games on 2 October, 2009?
I’d been training in Italy; I saw it all on the web. I felt on top of the world, it was magic. This is a great opportunity for Rio and for Brazil in so many aspects. We certainly have a lot of work ahead but we are going to deliver excellent Games in 2016.
What type of legacy will Rio 2016™ leave to Brazilian Sailing athletes?
The exchange is crucial to young sailors. After London 2012, between 2013 and 2016 there will be many other delegations to adapt to the conditions. Sailing with the best of the world is extremely important. This will be a great opportunity for the Brazilian athletes, since the circuit is 90% in Europe. Many boys cannot go, the distance will jeopardise their opportunity.
You are 38 and have been on the top for nearly two decades. Old age and excellent results is for a few in the world of sport. How can you combine experience and physical performance in Sailing?
For years I competed in the Laser class, which is very physically demanding. You’re there, alone, you do everything. In 2005, I shifted to the Star sailing class, which is less demanding. At a Star class, the athlete reaches the summit of their career at 35, 40 years old. Experience counts a lot when it comes to decision making on the boat. Brazilian and world sailing are renewed, new values arise, but you normally meet older athletes with great results in world championships and in the Olympics.
London 2012 will be your fifth edition of the Olympic Games. At your first editions you and British Ben Ainslie got into a real duel in the Laser class. Tell us about this historic rivalry.
Atlanta 1996, I was only 23, that was my first experience in the Games. I was quite comfortable with that situation. I started off as a frontrunner; I felt the pressure but could stand it and ended up winning the gold medal. That achievement was a great recognition. I felt the impact of a first Olympic medal.
At Sydney 2000, I was a favourite again. I started off winning, lost a bit, responded and there was the problem with the last regatta [Note: In an epic battle, Ainslie positioned his boat in a way that impaired the performance of Scheidt’s boat. Both of them went down to the last positions. After getting rid of his opponent, the Brazilian sailor recovered his position at the competition and reached 22nd place, one below the position required for a gold medal]. Of course I was frustrated. People expected me to become bi-champion then, to equal the position of Ademar Ferreira da Silva [the first Brazilian Olympic bi-champion in Athletics, at Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956]. But I’m proud above all. A silver medal means a lot, let alone a medal earned because of little details.
Which Games edition is the most memorable to you?
I can’t tell, but because of the bi-championship feeling, Athens 2004 was very special. I was the favourite, Ben Ainslie was out competing at a Finn sailing class, but I got caught up in adverse sailing conditions. The wind was weak, which was bad for me. I went on a strict diet, managed to lose a lot of weight. But the competition went smoothly, everything turned out fine and I earned my second gold medal.
Tell us about your partnership with Bruno Prada and your insights on shifting from individual work at a Laser class to teamwork at a Star class.
It was not an abrupt change. I made the decision to change class in 2005 for the Beijing’s Olympic cycle and I met someone as committed as I was when it comes to training and travel. He had also the same drive to win. I have known Bruno from childhood. We went sailing together when we were younger; we’ve never had any relationship problems. We are quite different from each other: one is more extroverted, talkative than the other, for example, but those are things we deal with pretty well. Of course we disagree every now and then, that happens to everyone, but we are a very good, close team.
With a guaranteed opportunity at London 2012, what do you expect to do differently from what you did at Beijing 2008 to earn the gold medal?
At Beijing, the silver medal felt like a gold medal. That was our first Games edition at a Star class, I got sick, we started off badly but we managed to recover our position and in the end the medal was very much celebrated. Now our conditions for London are so much better. One can never be sure of a medal, otherwise it would spoil the fun anyway, but in the next months, we’ve got to look after our physical shape, do our homework, arrive there in good conditions and make the right decisions at the competition. We’ve got to sail consistently well and be inspired on those six days.
At this stage of your career, do you think there is still room for any technical improvement?
There is always room for improvement. A boat is like a violin, you’ve got to tune it to each new condition you come across. You’ve got to adjust a lot of details and do your work step by step. Every Games edition, every different wind condition will hone your skills as a sailor.
Now to finish this interview, are we going to see Robert Scheidt in a lane of Guanabara Bay at Rio 2016™?
I hope so, but it all depends on the Olympic categories. London 2012 is my short-term goal. Only after that I will start thinking about the next cycle. [Note: According to the decision of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the Star class won’t be included on the list of the 10 events part of the Rio 2016™ Olympic programme]