With new rules, 2 svelte Olympic sailors look for advantage in Rio
We catch up with 470 sailing team before it makes its debut at the Summer Games.
The 470 will again be the sailboat used for men’s and women’s double-handed sailing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The class is renowned for extremely close racing – there can be 200 boats competing in a single regatta – and is known as one of the most technical and physical boats to sail. Variations are allowed in virtually every aspect of the boat and sail design, making the setup of the boat one of the most challenging aspects of competition – even before the boat hits the water.
Four years ago at the London Olympics, Eyal Levine was coaching Israeli 470 sailors Gideon Kliger and Eran Sela, but when the 470 World Championships were scheduled for Haifa in 2015, Levine decided it was time he returned to the sport as a competitor.
He teamed up with Dan Froylich, and at the 2015 World Championships, they were successful in snagging one of the last Olympic qualifying spots for Rio.
In the beginning, the two sailors put together their Olympic bid on a shoestring budget. But after six months, they got their first good result together, and the funding followed, with money coming from both the Olympic committee and their home club Sdot Yam Sailing Club of Israel.
The two sailors both started in the sport at a young age, but neither of them came from a sailing family.
Froylich hails from a small town between the coastal Mediterranean cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. “I just told my mom that I want to do something in the water. I was 9,” he told From the Grapevine. His mother took him down to the closest sailing club and he got started sailing a plastic version of the Optimist, a boat popularly used for teaching sailing around the world.
“I started with a friend of my family,” said Levine, who is from Haifa. “It was just a hobby in the beginning, but then I moved to the international Opti and started racing at the world level.”
Levine and Froylich moved into the 470 as teenagers, Levine as the helm, or driver, and Froylich as the crew. “I’m taller. So I’m the crew. I love being a crew. You need to be fast, a good athlete and in good shape. Of course, I like the spinnaker downwind and the reaching is exciting,” Froylich said.
In the past several years, the International 470 Class Association made a change to the rules that now allows the crew to "pump and ooch" the boat when the wind speed is over eight knots. Sailors are allowed to use their full bodyweight to pump the rig in a way similar to a bird flapping its wings, which helps to propel the boat up the racecourse. At the start, this pumping action is similar to how windsurfers beat their sails.
The new pumping rule has made 470 sailing even more physically demanding. While that should favor heavier, stronger crews like gold medalist and three-time world champion Australian Matt Belcher, Levine and Froylich are optimistic about their chances in Rio.
“The last couple of months we’ve really focused on improving our starts, and also on speed. You always look for better speed. We’re losing weight – we’re expecting light wind in Rio. We are quite small so we’ll try to take advantage of this,” Levine told us.
Levine and Froylich both hesitate to qualify their expectations with a number, but one of the great things about sailing is that there are so many variables. “In sailing, it’s always open, you can be last and become first in the blink of an eye,” Froylich said.
Levine lives on the beach in Israel and said he enjoys surfing and fishing, but there’s very little time for outside interests in their run up to Rio. They race primarily in Europe; he estimated last year they were outside of Israel for around 170 days.
We asked them both what their plans were for after Rio. “I don’t know. I’ll tell you the day after,” laughed Froylich.
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