Interview with Pavlos Kontides

(Sailing Energy | Gamagori, Japan 2017)

How old were you when you started sailing? 9

How did you first get involved with sailing? My father is sailor as well, so he took me to Limassol Nautical club to try out the sport, and that was enough to immediately fall in love.

What was your first boat? Optimist

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser? And what has kept you sailing it since? Being from a small country like Cyprus we don’t have many sailboat options to choose from. Therefore, due to my body type, the Laser was the natural progression which occurred pretty early. By 15 years old I was already sailing the Standard. 

The one design concept, the extremely challenging and competitive level you find at every regatta you compete, offers me the passion, drive, motivation, and will to still sail this phenomenally simple boat but very challenging and competitive. Every Laser sailor knows how demanding this boat can be both physically and mentally.

In 2007 and 2008, you won both ISAF Youth Worlds. Were those your first World Championship and international podiums? Yes, these were my first major international podiums. I think that was a very important stepping stone in my career, as it boosted me with faith and the belief that I can achieve more. 

Although it was long ago, what did you take away from that first experience? I first competed at the Youth Worlds in 2004 so being able to later win it 2 times proved to me that with hard work, dedication, and commitment you can achieve your dreams.

Were there any fellow sailors you competed against then that you still see on the race courses today? Of course, plenty of them as I sailed the Youths 5 times – Tonci Stipanovic, Nick Thompson, Sam Meech, Tom Burton, and Jean-Baptiste Bernaz just to name few. Here I would like to express my disagreement in 2009 to change from full rig to Radial. Statistics clearly show that medalists from the full rig could excel in the Senior Championships as well, this does not occur so often anymore with the Radial rig. In 2008, we had a debate about this and when I was asked I told them that they should keep the full rig. As a matter of fact, Giles Scott who is currently excelling in the Finn Class won gold in 2005. 

When you were getting involved in sailing the Laser, were there any specific sailors you looked up to or strived to be like some day? Definitely Robert Scheidt and Ben Ainslie, once I was competing at the senior level both of them competed in the Star and Finn respectively. I was fortunate enough to compete against Robert, we had a very intense battle for the World Championship in 2013, and he managed to claim gold and I settled for silver; we just had one point going into the last race.

Do you think you’ve surpassed or achieved those early goals? I definitely achieved a lot of my dreams, winning an Olympic medal and winning the World Championships. Of course I have more, that’s why we are competing and pushing ourselves to the limits, otherwise we could stay on our couch.

Moving from your Youth title in 2008, you qualified for the Beijing Olympics as the youngest Laser competitor. What was that like competing against an entire fleet that was older and more experienced? It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it. I finished 13th, which was a great result but I had a bitter taste after the event as I could enter the medal race (the last racing day I had my worst 2 races, nerves and experience played their role).

REUTERS/Pascal Lauener (CHINA)

Fast forward to 2012, this was a big year for you. Not only did you compete in your second Olympics, but claimed silver and the first-ever Olympic medal for your country. Can you tell us about your racing at the London Olympics and how you achieved that silver medal? I was really well prepared for 2012 Olympic Games, I just wanted to sail my best, I knew that I could battle for a medal but this was motivating me even more. To have the privilege to be the first ever medalist from your country is a huge honor and a rare opportunity. I am blessed that I manage to achieve that, hopefully Cypriots will be inspired from this.

What was that like for you winning the first Olympic medal for Cyprus? It was a dream come true. It was amazing, the celebrations that followed upon my return are unforgettable, the publicity I had those days I could not have even imagined.

A three-time Olympian, you competed in Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympics and placed 7th. How did the racing compare to the 2012 Olympics? Rio was a unique place with several racing areas in and out of the bay, conditions were pretty challenging, and the scoring was expected to be much higher compared to other competitions. 

An error during the 3rd day of racing with the strong winds cost me the chance to be on the podium. This is the sport, the difference between being on the podium or not comes down to minimal details. The result was not what I wanted, but it made me stronger and I bounced back for my most successful year so far, 2017.

With the 2017 Laser World Championship title, the Aarhus Sailing World Championships on the horizon, and your eye on a fourth Olympic qualification for 2020, what are your strengths that you plan to enhance and what areas do you need to improve in 2018? Coming from a very successful 2017 shows that the work done by the whole team around me is precise, correct, and necessary. I really owe a lot to my coach Jozo Jakelic (working together since 2007) and my many years training partnersTonči Stipanović and Filip Jurišić. The whole team together with more professionals around us, fitness coach, physio, nutritionist just to name few, and more training partners ensures readiness for major championships.

 Aarhus Worlds have the big difference of one discard, compared to Laser World Championships, therefore mistakes during the qualifiers are forbidden to increase your chances for the podium. We will of course have specific preparation on the venue before the Worlds. I already have some experience from the Bay of Aarhus and nice memories from 2008 Youth Worlds. I am sure it will be big fight until the end and I am really looking forward to it.

While you are sailing against an extremely strong fleet of Laser sailors, there is some element of luck or chance involved in sailing, and it is often about minimizing mistakes at this level. How do you work at reducing mistakes, or minimizing their impact? You always need to look every race and every day with clear head without letting previous results, or days affect your concentration. This is very crucial for our sport, due to many days of competition.

Do you have any particular “rituals” or routines that you do before going out on the water to compete? I always like to eat well and warm up my body.

With a career of Laser sailing and blazing trails for Cyprus in the Olympics, you are likely a role model for younger sailors or athletes. Do you have any regular interaction with beginner Laser sailors or youth athletes from your country? Of course I do, it is something I enjoy doing. I also have a dream to one day see the Cyprus seas full of sails. Recently I have visited several sailing clubs, talked to the kids, and then let them ask me whatever they wanted.

Have you attained a degree already or do you plan to pursue a degree in the future? In what area of study? I have already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Ship Science Engineering and I am currently doing a master’s degree online in Sports Business, which I should be finishing by the end of 2018.

Do you have any other goals outside of sailing? Of course, I would one day like to have my own family and get involved in business.

What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? Spending time with my loved ones, family, girlfriend, and friends. I enjoy extreme sports but I avoid them since they can have the consequence of an injury.

What would you like readers to know about Pavlos Kontides as a person? I think they already know me, as I keep no secrets. Anyone who wants to ask me something, he/she can reach me from my social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.