Interview with Emma Plasschaert

Photos | Sailing Energy

How old were you when you started sailing? I started sailing when I was seven years old, as soon as I could swim I was allowed to go sailing.

How did you first get involved with sailing? My dad was the president of the local sailing club at that time. As a kid I spent a lot of time near the waterside and caught the sailing bug.

What was your first boat? I first started sailing in the optimist.

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser Radial? And what has kept you sailing it since? I actually sailed the Europe before. I first was drawn to the Laser because I wanted to compete at the Youth Worlds. After that, our head coach Wil van Bladel created a group to train with Evi van Acker and invited me into the boat.

What was the first international Laser regatta in which you competed? My first international Laser regatta was in La Rochelle after sailing only a few months in the boat at a Europacup over Easter.

What did you take away from that first experience? I remember being very excited to compete in such a big fleet. I also remember how hard it was physically to develop good hiking skills.

When you were getting involved in sailing the Laser Radial, were there any specific sailors you looked up to or strived to be like some day? I was definitely looking up to Evi, having her as such a close example. I was able to train with her, work with her, see what she was doing, and learn a lot.

Do you think you’ve achieved those early goals or are you still working on them? I think my goals grew as I developed and got better results. It started out with being in medal races, getting top three places, to winning. I definitely haven’t achieved all my goals because one of those is my Olympic dream and I definitely want that.

How much training have you done with former teammate and Olympian Evi Van Acker? We had a very close relationship training-wise. We had the same coach, same team, and even bunked together in the same room.

Has your relationship changed since she has stopped competing with you? I think now it is more of a mentoring situation. She still has much more experience than I have, so I go to her for advice.

Over the past year, you have really brought your sailing to the next level. At the Sailing World Cup events, you won silver in Gamagori, silver in Miami, gold in Marseille, and bronze in Enoshima. Not to mention your outstanding win at the Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus. What has changed for you in the past year? What have you been focusing on and in what ways has your sailing improved? think I made a huge improvement mentally. In 2017 I had a year full of falling off the podium. It all finally clicked for me after a lot of reflection and a lot of mental training, making it possible for me to keep my cool and make sure that I don’t slip on the important or stressful moments.

The Hempel Sailing World Championship was the ultimate event of the year, and an opportunity to qualify your country for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. How did you prepare for the event, and how did you maintain your focus and performance at such a high-pressure event? We spent a lot of time in Aarhus during the summer. Being able to train on the water you will be competing on gives me a great sense of security. I think this focus was very well-placed and we definitely benefitted from this!

In Aarhus, the top sailors in the Laser Radial division really had inconsistent results throughout the long event. But with your consistent finishes, you not only defeated Olympic gold medalist Marit Bouwmeester, but you qualified Belgium for the 2020 Olympics. What was going through your mind when you realized you had claimed the international title and won the regatta? How did it feel to see all your hard work pay off? It actually was the best feeling ever. You sacrifice so much time in your life for your goal. You are busy with it every day, and it’s such a goal to compete at your best at the important events. I was so excited to get over that line, knowing that I finally got my win at one of the most important events of the last two years.

What are the best and the most difficult parts about competing against some of the strongest and most experienced female sailors in the world? The most difficult part is to be as consistent as they are. It is hard to be on top of your game every single race. It requires a lot of determination and focus. I think experience-wise I feel more and more confident. I think in the important moments this shines through, because the more you have been in a certain situation, the more of an automatic pilot you can switch on. I feel that this is definitely growing on my behalf too.

While there is some element of luck or circumstance involved in sailing, it is often about minimizing mistakes at this level. How do you work at reducing mistakes, or minimizing their impact? I think a conservative approach in certain circumstances is required. Having shifty conditions in Aarhus I had a very non-risk approach. Starting more towards the middle of the line and leaving ample possibilities during racing was key.

Do you have any particular “rituals” or routines that you do before going out on the water to compete? I don’t really have any rituals. I have a certain way of packing my bag, but I would hardly call that a ritual. A hug from our physio for good luck and that’s about it. I did wear the same socks for the entire event (I got them from someone on the team). I did well on the first day of racing when I wore them for the first time, so I decided to keep wearing them throughout the event.

What are your next events for the end of 2018? The last part of 2018 is gonna be for training only. No more events are planned.

What are your strengths that you plan to enhance and what areas do you need to improve in the year to come as you work toward Tokyo 2020? I am definitely gonna work on my overall speed this year. Being fast in every condition. Also starts are a major priority.

Do you attend a University? What do you study? I still study. I am at the University of Ghent in Belgium, and I am studying to become a technical engineer.

Do you plan to pursue those studies later at some point in life? I plan on studying very little at the moment to prioritize my sailing, but I definitely want to finish my studies, even if it will take me much longer than average students.

What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? When I need a break from sailing I love being surrounded by friends and family. We definitely miss out on a lot of family gatherings being away so many days, so I prefer to spend time with them and catch up!

Do you have any hobbies outside of sailing that help you better yourself as a sailor? I read a lot, also about sailing, and I think this definitely helps a lot. Also I used to play the piano ’til I was about 18. I think this hand-eye coordination is definitely beneficial.

What would you like readers to know about Emma Plasschaert as a person? I am a very open person and love having conversations with different kinds of people to broaden my horizons!