For My Family, For My Friends: An Interview with Robert Scheidt

The third time was the charm for Robert Scheidt at the annual ISAF conference in Lisbon

November 29, 2001

After coming up short the first two times he was nominated for the ISAF World Sailor of the Year Award, Scheidt, 28, finally took home the prestigious honor–and a Rolex watch–after topping a list of finalists that included Star world champion Fredrik Lööf, Vendée winner Michel Desjoyeaux, and ocean racing king Grant Dalton. For Scheidt, 2001 was an average year. He did what he’s done almost every year since 1995, dominate the Laser class. He won the world championship–his fifth–and a host of regional titles. Scheidt could easily still be wondering why he didn’t win the award the first time he was nominated, after winning the world and Olympic crowns in 1996, but the lanky Brazilian is as gracious and humble as he is talented. Grand Prix Sailor spoke with Scheidt, the first South American to win this award, by telephone from his parent’s home in Saõ Paulo, Brazil.

GPS: What are your first impressions about winning this award?

Robert Scheidt: It was a very emotional moment because I got the prize from the president of IOC, Jacques Rogge, who is an ex-sailor. He was really kind and had many nice words. It was very special that I got the prize in a Portuguese-speaking country so I could say a few words in my speech in Portuguese. Most of the Portuguese people there were happy to hear some Portuguese words.


For me personally, it’s the ultimate goal for a sailor winning this prize. There’s so many types of sailing around this world–ocean sailing, dinghy sailing, Olympic sailing. Winning this prize, to beat all the other guys from all the other classes, it’s really a sensation.

GPS: You’ve had good years before? What tipped the scale in your favor this time around?

RS: I think winning the Laser worlds for the fifth time was what made the difference in the voting. The vote was pretty even, because all the federations from all around the world had a chance. As I’m a Laser sailor, which is a very popular boat and has many countries competing, most of the people knew me or competed against me in the Laser class. So they were aware of who I am and what I did in the Laser class already.


GPS: How would you describe the boat? Some people criticize the Laser and say it’s too simple or not technical enough.

RS: I think it is a very physical boat. But it’s also tactical, because upwind the boats go in a very similar speed and the starts are very crowded. The first 200 meters of the race are very important. It’s tactical, like sailing a Farr 40. Especially upwind. Downwind it goes more to the technique, wave catching, and so on. But on the sail trimming side, Laser sailors are not the best. So I think in the future I want to do more sailing in big boats, and get more experience trimming a sail and fine tuning a rig.

It’s a simple boat to sail, but it’s difficult to win regattas because it’s a very competitive boat. You can put the best sailor in the world in this boat, but if he’s not fit, he’s not hiking hard, he’s not going to win. A kid of 17 years of age can beat him. I think that’s exciting.


GPS: So, where do you go from here? Athens?

RS: Yeah, that’s my plan. I want to keep sailing another 2.5 years to Athens. I will mix with a little bit of big boat sailing and do some races in Stars. But my main thing will be the Olympics again and the Laser and probably then I’ll quit the class.

GPS: How is the Star sailing going?


RS: I just did a regatta last weekend in Rio, we finished fourth. I’ll do the South American championships in early January. I’m trying to get some experience in that class, looking at the class for after Athens.

GPS: You’ve dominated the Laser class for so long? How do you keep motivated?

RS: I still have a lot of pleasure in sailing the boat. I think that’s the main thing that keeps me motivated. I like to compete a lot and I like the Laser sailing. The excitement of the regattas, traveling around, and competing with equal weapons. The Laser uses your fitness; I like to sail in that way, mixing tactical and physical perpetration. But I think it’s important to keep changing your routine. I’ve been sailing the Laser for 10 years now, so you have to do different things for training, otherwise you get bored.

GPS: I remember seeing a photo of you sailing in a rainsquall at the Savannah Olympics. Do you enjoy sailing a Laser in crazy conditions?

RS: I like that kind of sailing a little bit. It’s a lot of fun. We did a Laser worlds in South Africa in ’96, and we sailed a lot of long races in windy stuff. That’s when your physical fitness counts most and your ability in the boats, especially downwind. It’s nice. But not only that. I think it’s also important to sail a little bit in light wind, medium wind to keep sharp.
GPS: Where do you feel most comfortable in a Laser?

RS: Reaching and running are my favorite.

GPS: Are you now the fastest in the world off the wind?

RS: It’s hard to say the fastest. The Portuguese guy who came second at the Worlds this year [Gustavo Lima] is quick. Probably I go similar speed as him and a couple of other guys. You have to be concentrated on the boat and working as many waves as possible. You need a lot of training to develop the technique. You can make big gains in a fleet if you’re doing the right thing.

GPS: What were your early impressions of the boat?

RS: It was really hard because when I started after the Optimist, I was 61 kilos (135 pounds) and I got to this regatta in Ilha Bella, on the coast off Sao Paulo. It was windy and we didn’t have Radial rigs at that time, so I sailed in a standard rig and I almost died. It was really hard for me; I thought, “I can never sail this boat in my life.” My brother was a very good sailor at that time. Of course, he was bigger than me and he said, ‘It’s hard on the sea, but on the lake, it’s going to be alright.” I sailed Snipes until I was 72-73 kilos (160 pounds) and then I came back to the Laser and I started to have more fun with it.

GPS: When did you start to think you could be a great Laser sailor?

RS: I started to gain confidence in my career when I first won the Youth Worlds in 1991. At that time, I had a big rivalry with Dean Barker, from Team New Zealand. He won in 1990. In 1991, I won and he was second. Two years later the Laser dropped into the Olympic games and I started to dream of competing at the Games. That was the break through, winning the youth worlds.

GPS: Have you gotten feedback from people in Brazil on winning the award?

RS: Oh yeah. A lot. A lot of magazines called me. After the awards I came straight from Portugal to Rio and the major TV channel was waiting for me at the airport, I did all the interviews. It was big here and I was happy here that I could get people to know more about sailing, which is not a very popular sport in Brazil.

GPS: Have you noticed more people sailing in Brazil lately?

RS: I have a friend that owns a sailing school, and he tells me when I win the worlds or the Olympics or the Pan American games, more people sign up for classes. There’s a direct response; it’s more in the media, on TV, so people go and try to sail.

GPS: Any final thoughts on winning this award?

RS: It was very magical because I was in this place with my family and my supporters, people who put a lot of effort into my career. I was feeling really good that night, not just because of what the prize means, but that all of those people who helped me achieve my goal were there sharing in that moment.


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