THE winds in Weymouth can be fierce, but West Vancouver's Zac Plavsic is hoping he can harness them for one last great rush for gold.
For the past month, Plavsic has been training and competing in the seaside British town located about two hours southwest of London. The site will soon become the satellite Olympic village for the sailing events at the 2012 London Games.
Plavsic was in Weymouth competing in the last windsurfing world cup event of the season in early June. He finished 15th out of 60 competitors.
"I had some good races and some bad ones," he says of the six-day event.
Racing with a fever, he also faced 48knot winds (that's close to 89 kilometres per hour).
When the winds picked up, officials sent the other sailing classes home for the day and sent the windsurfing class out on the water.
"Forty-eight knots was insane," says Plavsic with a laugh. "It's like you're holding on to a massive wing essentially, and so obviously the stronger the wind gets the harder it is to control the wing."
Once upon a time windsurfers wouldn't race in winds above 30 knots, then it was 35 knots and then at the world championships in Spain they were racing in winds up to 38 knots, he notes.
"You're basically wrestling a bear for 45 minutes." There's a lot of technique involved and a lot of strength, he adds. "It took a lot out of me."
Back home in West Van for a week before he returns to Weymouth for more training, Plavsic is still under the weather but is ready for the Olympics.
"It's going to be awesome. I think London's going to be great," he says. "I'm feeling confident about doing the best result Canada has seen in Olympic wind surfing, and I really do look forward to representing our country on the world stage."
Plavsic will be joined in Weymouth by his parents and sister, who are travelling to the Games to watch him compete. He will also be joined by fellow West Vancouverite Nikola Girke, who is the female athlete representing Canada in the windsurfing event.
This will be Plavsic's second appearance at the Olympics. In 2008, he finished 23rd in windsurfing at the Beijing Olympics.
"It's going to be two very different Olympics," says Plavsic, noting the site for the 2008 Games didn't suit his sailing abilities. The wind was very light at the Beijing Games, but the Weymouth site is enclosed in a bay and the wind coming off the shore creates a wide range of conditions.
"It's really tricky racing and that's something that I like," explains Plavsic.
In a 45-minute race there are lots of opportunities to lose focus, but when the wind's shifting all over the place it keeps you more interested, he adds.
"It's a really fun venue to sail. It's tricky. It's one of those venues where you could be down to 15th place in a race and you can come back and still finish top-three. Or you could be winning the race and make a minor mistake and you'll drop out of the top 10."
With the London Games fast approaching, Plavsic is heading back to Weymouth.
"A lot of the work has been done. It's just going there, putting in the big effort for the next three weeks and then just doing a proper taper, making sure I don't get sick," he says, noting it's all about fine tuning now.
"If you're a month out from the Games and you have anything major to work on you haven't done the four years properly."
While Plavsic focuses on his upcoming performance, he is also aware of a recent decision that may keep him out of the next Games.
In November, the International Sailing Federation council voted that kite boarding will replace windsurfing for the men's and women's board events at the Rio 2016 Games. The decision will be reviewed in November, but Plavsic says he was disappointed in the council vote.
"I'm just really disappointed for what it means for the sport of wind surfing," he says.
Recreational kite surfing has been around for about 10 years, but kite surf racing has only been around for about four years, and is not as established as wind surfing, says Plavsic. And if the participation numbers are any indication of interest in the sport, wind surfing has a strong future, he notes.
"This is a sport where we have 380 youth that are going to do the youth world championships," he says, adding the French national championships had more than 250 youth (19 and under) competing. A strong commitment to early development is happening in China and Britain, and Canada and the United States are starting to invest in development programs as well.
"For the first time in Olympic wind surfing all these countries have invested so much money and time developing the youth programs and they've just started to get going the past few years now and this decision happened," says Plavsic.
Just a few weeks ago, Plavsic joined with former Olympian Ben Remocker to form a new organization called the Olympic Sailors Association.
Plavsic says he wants to empower sailing athletes and give them a voice in the sport.
At the recent world cup event, Plavsic gave a speech about the new association to an audience of sailing athletes, many of whom were multiple medalists.
Although it was "kind of exciting," Plavsic says he was a bit nervous.
"These guys are intimidating in the boat park and they're all over the press," he says of the audience.
Plavsic says he received a positive reception, and is aiming to reach out to more sailors, not just wind surfers.
"For me it's not only about wind surfing but it's about the future sport of sailing."