Qualifying for Rio: An interview with Yanic Gentry (MEX)

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Yanic Gentry on his latest qualification for the Olympics at Miami OCR, his training, mental game, coaching and more. Enjoy the interview below.

Yanic Gentry Sailing

ISA: Hi Yanic, thanks for taking the time for the interview today.

To begin, congratulations on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. It’s been a long, hard road for you, and on behalf of everyone at ISA, we want to sincerely congratulate you on achieving one of the highest goals attainable in sport. We really stoked for you and proud of your achievements so far.

YG: Thanks Colin, I’m really happy about it too and proud to be representing my country at the Olympics in 2016.

ISA: I recall training with you back in 2013 or so at the Anna Tunnicliffe camp at ISA. Your sailing has come a long way since then. Were you shooting for the games at that point, or did they come into view as your racing progressed? When did you see a big jump in your sailing improvement?  

YG: I was shooting for the games from a time shortly after I started training with ISA. I started training harder and much more seriously, about the time after the London Olympics. I think I made the biggest gains shortly after Vaughn first told me that I still had a lot to learn in terms of technique and boat handling during a clinic with some Canadian team guys.  After the initial training camps with ISA, I made big improvements right away, and not just in my sailing, but also in my overall big picture training. Vaughn made a list where we had to honestly evaluate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in each area of importance; nderspwind/downwind boathandling, speed, fitness, nutrition, sleep, organization…  and that’s how the serious training started for me. Each day I tried to improve on each aspect a little bit.

ISA: How many days on average do you think you sailed per week in the last 2 years?

YG: 5 Days per week. It was a lot easier after I finished school to sail 5 days.

ISA: What’s a typical day of training for you?

YG: In the last year, a typical day when I’m training hard goes something like this. I wake up and do some fitness, about 1 hour, in the gym or a bike ride, breakfast, then a second workout – which is usually sailing for about 3 hours, eat, and then either goto the gym or do another fitness, crossfit or weightlifting, running or swimming. After that I eat again and goto bed. I train about 36 hours per week when I am peaking.

Understanding the technical facts and how it actually works to generate more speed, is something you can learn very clearly at ISA and that’s one reason why I kept coming back.

ISA: Do you maintain a pretty strict diet, or do you pretty much eat whatever you feel like?

YG: Once you do so much exercise, your body starting telling you what to eat and what not to eat. So I didn’t have a very strict diet… but I did learn about some diets and experimented to see which foods were best for my performance. I eat as much as possible to fulfill caloric requirement in those big training days. I move to basically zero alcohol for the most part, so I can recover well and perform optimally. Sometimes it’s hard to follow a strict diet because of time on the water, travelling etc. but I feel happy just listening to my body requirements and eating what I feel like.

ISA: You’ve been training at ISA for a few years now. How important do you think quality coaching is/was to the improvement of your sailing?

YG: I like training at ISA because everyday there is always a lesson to be learned. Everyday I went out sailing, I came back happy and satisfied that I learned something and I improved always in a small aspect. That’s why I liked it (ISA). Also, all trainings were very technical and made clear how all the sailing physics work. As an engineer, it’s something I could understand better instead of just by feeling or observation. Understanding the technical facts and how it actually works to generate more speed, is something you can learn very clearly at ISA and that’s one reason why I kept coming back. There wasn’t a day when there wasn’t a plan or a goal or something to be improved, whether in speed, tactics, boathandling, mental game or other.  I never went on the water without a plan or a goal for the day… so it’s very focused.

ISA: Would you say it’s important to have good coaching as a sailing athlete then?

YG: You have to. (pauses) You have to have coaching for sure. I started with coaching at ISA …. before I was doing everything on own… asking people how to get faster and trying to watch and figure out how things worked. I never understood about the physics of how the boat really worked, so I couldn’t make my own conclusions, so my learning curve wasn’t going very high… it was a very slow process of improvement. At ISA, I get the quality coaching and also importantly, the sailing with other high caliber sailors, and my learning curve went much higher…..  exponential. That’s why I kept coming back, because there were always good training groups, and things started making sense to me about how it really worked to go fast. And the results came too.

ISA: Just recently you sailed the Miami OCR event. High pressure events like that must have a significant psychological component to them. Do you do any mental preparation before the regatta?

YG: Yes…. I figured I had been training a lot on my physical aspects, but I had forgot the mental aspect which is a big part to train too. Especially at a certain level, I think the top athletes, the ones who are better mentally prepared, will perform better, because at higher levels, the physical performance of athletes tends to get similar…. so it’s obviously important.  Vaughn and I were working and figuring out how my state is when I perform the best. What we found out, is that I perform the best when I’m enjoying the moment. So in training, every time I go on the water, I try to focus on the goals of the day and do a lot of visualization beforehand of how I will perform and achieve my goals….  and how I will at the same time enjoy the moment and have fun doing what I’m doing and what I like…. not putting too much pressure on myself. I’ve been working with a sports psychologist, Marcela Martinez, who has been very helpful… I did that for about a week… for about an hour per day for a week… same basic visualization and other tricks. If I get anxious, I have a routine with breathing which helps….  but also sometimes if I’m a big sluggish, so I use some physical tricks like really short workouts/stretches to bring the energy up… but not too far to where I get anxious. I practice clearing mind through mantras etc. to sleep well and it works very effectively. I’ve never felt so calm and relaxed in a big event before, and I think it really helped my performance.

I honestly think Puerto Vallarta is the best place to sail in the world, especially in the windy season.

ISA: You had to beat Juan Carlos Perdomo amongst other North American sailors in the regatta to qualify for the Olympics.  What was your strategy going into the event? Were you trying to match race? Stay near JCP? Or just sail as best as you could and let the chips fall where they may?

YG: When training with Matt Ryder and others at ISA, we practiced a lot of scenarios that could occur at OCR…not necessarily match racing, but being aware of his position and taking that into account as a greater factor in my tactics. I made some big gains with Matt practicing those scenarios.

During the regatta, JCP wasn’t in my heat during first 2 days of qualifying races… so I just focused on racing well and finishing well with the top guys. My performance gave me greater confidence against Juanky on the third day. I focused on sailing the best race possible…. but also if one my competitors from other nations that could qualify separated too much, I’d keep them in check and not separate too much further… but I tried not compromise my overall result following others on a big flier.

ISA: The Banderas Bay is your home court. Having sailed in so many venues internationally, what do you think about the conditions in the bay? Are you looking forward to having the 2016 World Championships in your backyard?

YG: I honestly think Puerto Vallarta is the best place to sail in the world, especially in the windy season. The wind conditions, waves and weather conditions make PV a perfect place for sailing. I’m excited to have worlds here because I know the bay like the back of my hand. I’m really tuned into the wind and wave patterns here… so I think I have a bit of a local advantage. I hope I can have the best result a Mexican has had at a Worlds yet. My goal is to reach gold fleet again and maybe even better.

ISA: Looking past the Worlds, what will you do to prepare for the Olympics?

YG: I’m following the same path basically that I’ve been following for the last year, but I know I’ll be having some great support from the Mexican Federation, and will be even more organized. I’ll be training with other Olympians at ISA, because I think it’s the best preparation. I will do some racing in Palma and Medemblik and other international events, and do some training camps in Rio so I can get used to the venue there and just…. keep sailing.

ISA: Do you have any sponsors, friends/family  you would like to give a shout out to before we close up the interview?

YG: I don’t have any corporate sponsors yet, though they could have some good exposure with the all the media attention here in Mexico, and to join me in my journey to Rio. The sailing thus far, was largely sponsored by my parents. My parents have always been there and always believed that I could do it, never backing down, even when I was not performing well. They believed that I could do better and always encouraged me to do better in the tough times.

I also want to thank Cristian Álvarez who programmed a lot of my physical training and fitness training. Also an Argentinian coach named Germán Calvelo who helped me a lot with my fitness as well, especially for stronger wind. Also, Marcela Martinez for helping me with my mental game.

ISA: Thanks Yanic, enjoy the rest of the day, thanks for your time and thoughts – we wish you all the best going forward.

Good luck, Yanic, – we’ll follow you in Rio!


Colin Gowland

Colin began coaching for ISA full time in 2015 and has been evolving his methodologies and technique under the close mentorship of Vaughn Harrison ever since. His coaching style has been described as patient, methodical and analytical.