Controlled Chaos

Two days before the Opening Ceremonies, the Olympic boat park at the Marina da Gloria is buzzing.

Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016
The Marina da Gloria permanent boat ramp. In the foreground, sailors prepare to launch for the day's practice. In the background, workers repair a ramp that was damaged in a storm surge over the weekend.Lisa Gabrielson/Sailing World Magazine

Paige Railey is in a tree. The US Sailing Team is in its final days of preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, and Laser Radial sailor page Railey has been placed in a beachside tree by team photographer Daniel Forster. Posing for the portrait is one of many boxes that each team member must tick off the list today. They're also tasked with shooting their still and moving headshots in the World Sailing office at the Marina Da Gloria. These images will appear at the bottom of TV screens across the globe when sailing is broadcast on NBC.

“They’ll be using these a lot because you guys are going to be winning,” says US Sailing Team communications officer Will Ricketson as he guides 470 team Stu McNay and Dave Hughes into the World Sailing studio. Once they’re finished with these shots, they’ll head down to the beach where Forster awaits with his camera to take their official team headshots. Then, they’re back in the boat park to rig.

The boat park is a hive of activity. Teams are rigging, dressing, undressing, stretching and sitting around tables at the Athlete lounge enjoying lunch. Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee, the American Nacra 17 team, are hunched over a notebook as coach Jonathan McKee gives them pointers before practice. At the next table, Marit Bouwmeester, the Netherland’s Laser Radial sailor and 2012 gold medalist, scrolls through her phone, and a line of hungry athletes and coaches stretches around the corner.

rio olympics
Dave Hughes and Stu McNay pose for their official photo and video "moving headshot" ahead of the Olympics in Rio.Lisa Gabrielson/Sailing World

The Olympic Regatta doesn’t begin for five more days, but practice regattas started yesterday. The 470s, both men and women, have organized regattas, whereas Paige Railey and her coach Mark Littlejohn have been organizing regattas for the Laser Radial fleet themselves at the Naval racecourse area.

Railey, back from her in-tree photo shoot, is busy rigging while Littlejohn chats with coaches from Canada and Portugal. “The crazy thing is, I’m not nervous at all,” says Railey as she rolls on her wetsuit. “Even when I think about the medal race, I don’t feel nervous.” Railey then ties and velcros her boots, and puts her gameface on. Usually chatty, she falls silent and focused as she prepares to head to on the water, with a slight detour back up to the media center to retrieve her forgotten race watch.

Littlejohn walks Railey’s boat down to the boat launch. “She totally embraces the crazy around here,” says Littlejohn of Railey. “The chaos doesn’t affect her at all.”

Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016
Paige Railey poses for US Sailing Team photographer Daniel Forster. The team portraits are just one of many activities the sailors must check off their list before the Games kick off on Friday, August 8.Lisa Gabrielson/Sailing World Magazine

That attitude will help Railey when racing starts on Monday, says Littlejohn. “She can handle the unpredictableness of the racecourses here,” he says. “Other sailors I’ve coached can’t handle the changes and the chaos. Paige isn’t fazed by that.”

Littlejohn dodges dozens of people as he weaves the boat and dolly through the crowds to the boat ramp. The dollies, he says, are poorly designed, and the logistics have been a nightmare. The men’s toilets in the athletes lounge are already clogged. But, its’ the chaos of the games that you have to embrace, he says, as he navigates around the Croatian coaching staff. “It’s the Brazilian way of doing things,” explained Railey earlier in the day. “It may not get done a week ahead of time, but it’ll get done.” Here, they call it the Jeitinho Brasileiro, the laid-back Brazilian way of life. Its familiar to Railey, having spent more time here than any other sailor than perhaps the Brazilians (and it's possible she has them beat, too). The media, the sailors, the coaches and the rest of us will just have to get used to it.