Interview with Karl-Martin Rammo

How old were you when you started sailing and how did you get involved? I started when I was 8 when my dad took me to a sailing practice and I’ve never looked back. My dad used to sail when he was young and as my coach and he were friends, it made a lot of sense. I don’t think I had ever acknowledged sailing before joining the local sailing school, but just loved it from the first go.

Why did you first decide to sail the Laser? And what has kept you sailing it since? Laser was the logical choice for me as my physical parameters were kind of spot-on without the need to force anything – no massive weight gain nor loss programs or anything like that. As I was tall, a single-handed boat was the way to go albeit my coach was famous for coaching 470s to multiple Olympic medals. Estonia is a small country with let’s say under a thousand active dinghy sailors without much Sunday dinghy sailing culture, so everything linked to dinghies is always directly related to the classes at the games. Because of that, you could say the Laser chose me, not the other way around. Since getting started in the Radials all the way back in 2004, I’ve always loved the competition. With the immense internationality the Laser offers, it always brings the brightest talents from all around the world. This plus the fact that Lasers are very physical yet slow makes the gaps super small and competition brutal. If you win in Lasers, you can win in anything! (As hiking can get pretty rough at times, I tend to think this applies not only to sailing, but life in general.)

When you were getting involved Laser sailing, were there any specific sailors you looked up to or strived to be like some day? Robert (Scheidt) felt like the Michael Jordan of our sport although I never really had any posters of him in my room or anything like that. Just tremendous respect for his skills. Racing against him after his comeback to Lasers has been super fun but somehow weird at the same time as I remember looking at the results and him winning from when I was like 9 or 10. Talking about striving to be like someone, in my youth I was always really lucky to have a group of a little bit older guys ahead of me. In the Optis, I was a few years behind trying to make up for the gap, and when I started in Lasers, Deniss Karpak was already making Gold fleet regularly and in a few years medalled at the worlds. This always resulted in a perfect growing opportunity for myself that I took full advantage of and it surely helped a lot more than idolizing anyone distant and God-like.

Tell us about the first time you qualified for the Olympics in 2012, and what that Olympic experience was like in London as one of the younger sailors in the fleet.  The London Games were just around the time when I started to come into my own in the fleet making top 10s at the Europeans as well as some other major regattas. I was still young and ignorant enough to think that I can beat anyone even though parts of my game were still miles off of guys like Slingsby and others at the time. I had to beat a few other Estonians to get the spot which made the process all the more fun. The Games were obviously awesome as I was young and without any big expectations nor pressure. I was very well prepared physically and was able to capitalise on that during the first three racing days sitting 10th going into the lay day. Sitting next to the Nothe course looking at other fleets that day messed with my head a bit after which I slipped through the ranks finishing 18th. This experience gave me a lot for the coming years as I sort of had a good regatta and a bad regatta within one Olympics.

What did you learn from your time in London that you were able to take with you into Rio in 2016? The fact that if you have flow, you don’t mess with it! Unfortunately I never had any flow (other than the currents in the bay!) in Rio so not much of that experience helped me in Rio. Looking back at both Games, I love how ignorance really is bliss – in London I was a lot less fundamentally sound in technique yet confident in what I did know. In Rio, 4 years had passed, I knew all my competition as friends as well as all the upsides they had on me and I had on them. Surely I concentrated too much on those and not enough on just going out there to race.

How did you get involved in training under Jozo Jakelic with Pavlos Kontides and Tonci Stipanovic? Do you still train with them all? Joining their group was somehow organic. I was looking at a change at the time as I’d always been campaigning pretty much solo and they were looking for a new member to their team, so it felt like the right fit, hopefully not only for myself but to them as well. Although my full tenure in the group wasn’t too long, I learnt an immense amount and made friends for life, for sure. I still occasionally train with the group and really enjoy the challenge sailing with such talent and work ethic each day brings.

This year, you finished in 43rd at the Standard World Championships in Melbourne. What went well for you in that regatta and what was challenging? Ooh, tough one! The only thing that went well was the fact that it was the first time I got a prize at the worlds as I was given the trophy of “Silver fleet champion” (ha-ha!). Quite the embarrassment after being left to silver for I think the second or maybe third time in my long road. But, in all seriousness, Australia was meant as a long training block for me, where I spent more than two months in Melbourne. This, plus the fact that I was coming off of a small back injury, it was sort of given that the Worlds were either going to magically go really well or really bad, no middle ground. Well, the latter happened. All that said, I’m sure it would’ve been a nice piece of the puzzle to add to the build-up to Tokyo, but now that this is delayed, not much good to remember from Melbourne other than great coffee and awesome breeze!

You’re now headed toward your third Olympic Games in Tokyo – how have you had to adjust your training plan now that they’ve been moved to 2021? There’s two sides to that story. As I was “all in” for Tokyo, it’s obviously a bit of a downer that it was delayed, but in hindsight, I did feel like I was struggling in some areas during the build-up so an extra year serves me quite well trying to redo some of the things that went sideways during this outing. At the moment, I’m just keeping a steady pace keeping fit and active without a very serious push towards any weekly or monthly goals as there really isn’t much in sight for the next couple of months speaking in peaks. I’m using this time to refocus and get ready for another push when things normalise a little. Obviously the work never stops, but I guess that comes with the lifestyle that you never really do stop.

Tell us about your workout-from-home routine during this unusual time. I’m always creative as I come from a cold country with a limited supply of quality training partners! I’ve been super lucky as there hasn’t been a full shutdown in our country so you’re allowed to go outdoors. I happen to live in the suburbs of Tallinn with a lot of nature around me, so I’ve been able to do MTB biking in the forest, running, I have a bar and weights at home, hiking bench etc. I’ve even played a bit of golf. As it has so far been pretty cold and all my boats are stuck in other parts of the world, I actually haven’t been able to go out in the Laser, but I’m sure that is about to change in a week or so.

Do you have many training partners in Estonia or do you usually train solo when at home in Tallinn? I tend to train with the young guns coming up. With creativity you can always find ways to compare yourself to the level around you – start a minute (or a few) later in training races and so on. Having brutal mistakes around me keeps things in perspective and reminds me that you need to keep it simple! But, all in all, of course world-class talent on a daily basis is what moves you out of your comfort zone hence the usual brutal travel schedule to find it.

In such a strong fleet of Laser sailors, how do you work at reducing mistakes or minimizing their impact? Nowadays I try to control what I can, not everything that happens on the race course or in the world for that matter. Technique is obviously key, as being fundamentally sound keeps you out of many situations that you hope to not see yourself in. I feel like if you’re really comfortable in the boat, it’s already halfway to happiness as you can do whatever you put your mind to. Then comes race day, it’s all about choosing the right strategy without the need to think whether you have the speed etc. As I’ve never been the bang-the-corners guy, if I have the speed and the technique, my mistakes tend to have a smaller impact than some one-tacker guys might.

Have you been involved in any other type of racing or boats over the years outside of the Laser? Nothing serious. Obviously I’ve done my fair share of other boats as most all sailors have from some Match Racing to a bit of Offshore to some other boats racing around the course, but never anything serious. I still feel like racing Lasers is the purest form of “let’s find out who’s the best sailor” so that’s what I’ve been sticking to.

What do you enjoy doing when you need a break from sailing? A lot of things. I’m happily married with a soon to be 3-year-old running around the house on a daily basis so that takes energy but gives energy back at the same time. I have a love-hate relationship with golf and also enjoy many other sports. I’m likely the only top-something Laser sailor in the world who has had a full-time job outside sailing for years now, so albeit I did take time off to prepare for Tokyo, sailing is actually what I do when I need a break, and vice versa, work is what I do when I need a break from sailing.

 Do you have any other goals outside of sailing? I have many goals, from being the best husband and father I can be to many business-related goals. As the near future around the Games is a bit uncertain, I’ve been appointed as the acting CEO of a multimillion euro company employing 60+ people, so that takes a lot of my daylight these days.

 Do you think there will be a fourth Olympic campaign for you? I’m certain that there will not be a full campaign with all the regattas touring around the world all year. That being said, I really love sailing and competing against the best guys in the world and Laser sailing really does bring that so I’m having a hard time imagining a life without it. As weird as it might sound, the Games itself really isn’t a goal in itself anymore, the Games is a byproduct of being successful. It’s more about the competition, the guys in the boat park, and just the raw emotion of coming in from racing and knowing that you gave it your all AND it was good enough. Obviously I’m a competitive person so if this type of a drive doesn’t put me in a position to be competitive in the fleet anymore, then it’s time to stop.

What would you like readers to know about Karl Rammo as a person? I’m an all-out guy. Although it might not be the healthiest and most stress-free way to live one’s life, if someones says something is impossible, or at the very least, most unlikely (like being world-class in Laser sailing from a country with 1,3Mil people where you can sail 5 months of the year or campaigning and working at the same time with groups of subordinates), I tend to challenge these beliefs and use the doubts as fuel.