By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Perhaps Danielle Boyd didn’t realize it yet, but before she got her boat registered, before she checked into the athletes village, before she got downtown to witness the hoopla, by mid-day Monday she was already experiencing part of the Pan Am Games experience: Toronto traffic.
On her cell phone Boyd, crew on the Canadian 49er FX boat skippered by Erin Rafuse in the Pan Am sailing regatta, admitted she was excited and looking forward to her first multisport Games experience.
“We haven’t been to downtown Toronto yet,” the Kingston sailor said. “We just got here. We’re still on the outskirts, trying to get our boat across the city, but we’re looking forward to seeing what the city hype is like.”
The opening ceremony for the Games is Friday night.
“We got our accreditation in the airport and that was all just exciting,” Boyd said. “We have to get our boat to the venue today; it’s the last day to check in, so we’re waiting to do that and then we move into the (athletes) village. There’s lots going on.
“We’ve seen lots of other athletes posting exciting things. The city seems pretty pumped.”
Competitive sailors aren’t accustomed to such trappings and, indeed, Boyd says that’s one of the things that makes the Pan Am Games important for her and Rafuse, who ultimately have designs on an even bigger athletic festival, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“This is a big event, obviously, and it’s important in the Canadian system,” Boyd said, “but there’s no (implications for) qualifying for the Olympics that come out of this. It’s just another event on the way to the Olympics, but it’s good practice, because of the atmosphere and the pressures and the media and stuff. That all helps prepare for the Olympics.”
Having never been part of a multisport Games, Boyd said she has no idea how such peripheral matters will impact her, but she’s “definitely” looking forward to finding out.
“I’m hoping it will invigorate me,” she said, “but it could be a distraction, too. I haven’t been into the hype yet, so it’s hard to say.”
Boyd spent the last two weeks training in Europe, where the team’s coach, Mark Asquith, is based and where many of the world’s top crews were also practising. It was an opportunity Rafuse and Boyd never hesitated to take, even though they could have been training on the competition venue, much closer to home.
“The Europeans, the Brazilians (were there). It was an international training group that is quite strong, and that will help us in the long run,” Boyd explained. “Our coach was there, too, so we would have just been here alone, pretty much by ourselves.
“With our coach there and a good training group we decided that was more practical.”
While there, the Canadians worked to refine “race-course stuff,” things like starts and what Boyd called race-course management.
“We were doing lots of racing with the fleet,” she said. “It went well. It was very productive. We were learning lots. There was a lot of light winds so that was helpful, as well, because this event could be quite light.
“Typically our strength is (in winds of) 12 to 15 knots, but we’ve definitely been improving in the light conditions.”
The Pan Am fleet is small, just six boats, but there will be some good competition. The Brazilian crew is the world champion, and the crews from Argentina and the U.S., like Rafuse and Boyd, are on the cusp of qualifying for the Olympics. “We’ve always been close in the results,” Boyd said.
Also entered are boats from Chile and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It should be a pretty tight competition,” Boyd said. “The venue (Lake Ontario, off Royal Canadian Yacht Club), for sure, will create some tight racing, and it will be a good small-fleet, race-management type of event. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
“We haven’t sailed many small events, only among Canadians and we’ve usually done pretty well, but it’s a different field, so it’s obviously going to be more challenging with international competitors than with home boats.”
The Pan Am Games sailing events commence Sunday, with the 49er FX women sailing three races each day through Wednesday. The series, scheduled for 16 races, concludes with two races on both Thursday and Friday, with medal races to be held on Saturday or Sunday, July 18 or 19.