Reineke’s Battle For the Berth

When an Olympic berth comes to the final race, ILCA 6 champion Erika Reineke delivers a masterful performance.
Fort Lauderdale’s Erika Reineke holds a lane off the start of the US Sailing Team’s ILCA 6 Trials in Miami. Lexi Pline/US Sailing Team

The sun streaks across Miami’s tropical blue waters as Erika Reineke sails up to her coach, Erik Bowers, to come up with a game plan for the final race. Heading into today, three women had a chance to go to Paris for the ILCA 6 class, including Charlotte Rose, Christina Sakellaris, and Reineke. With Rose copping a U Flag in the second to last race, the duo turns their sights to Sakellaris, who can still knock Reineke out of the running.

“If she wins and you get fourth, it’s over,” says Bowers, who has been keeping an eye on the scoresheet. “You still have a drop, so it’s probably time we use it.” ]

With a puffy northwest breeze, it will be tricky to herd the fleet with the leverage available in each passing shift, so Reineke and Bowers decide on a more direct approach. If Reineke can keep her opponent out of the top five, the berth will be hers, so after some final words of encouragement from her coach, she takes a deep breath, pushes off from the RIB, and readies herself for the race.

A Fort Lauderdale native, Reineke grew up around Laser sailing legends like Brad Funk and Anna Tunnicliffe, which had her dreaming of the Olympics since she was 15 years old. After a stellar youth and college career that included 2012 Olympic selection regattas as a high schooler, a four-year winning streak at the ICSA Women’s Singlehanded Championships, and two additional campaigns for Rio and Tokyo, an Olympic berth seems long overdue. After failing to qualify in 2016 and 2020, Reineke transitioned to the 49erFX, spending two years with Lucy Wilmot before deciding to step back into the ILCA 6 to make a solo run at 2024. She met Bowers while they were campaigning for the Rio Olympics, both finishing second in their respective classes, but only began working as athlete and coach in 2022 out of Reineke’s home Lauderdale YC. Since then, the two have been nearly inseparable with this single goal in mind. “Erik has been an integral part of this effort,” says Reineke. “He’s super dedicated and we’ve both been dreaming of making it to the Olympics as a team. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and his insight has been invaluable since day one.”

The grueling seven-day Trials format in Miami was test of mental and physical endurance in a talent-rich ILCA 6 field with Reineke (221225) persevering to earn the Olympic berth. Lexi Pline/US Sailing Team

After a strong start to her campaign, Reineke suffered a devastating ankle fracture with the US SailGP team leading up to their event on Sydney Harbor in February 2023. The injury took eight-and-a-half months to fully heal, and she knew the timeline for full recovery was going to be tight. Her first event back was the 2023 Olympic Test Event in Marseille last July, where she nabbed a 10th-place finish. She then scored 15th at the Worlds a few weeks later, with her American teammate, Charlotte Rose, finishing fifth. Going into the Olympic Trials, Reineke knew that Rose would be her toughest competitor, which proved true as Rose lead most of the event. Hiking conditions persisted through all seven days of racing, and at one point a squall came through with some of the windiest conditions Reineke has ever raced in.

“Every day we had to wake up and battle,” Reineke says. “The points were always close so I had to keep the mentality that it was never over. We took each race at face value, recalibrated, and went from there. Going into the final race, it was pretty clear what I had to do. It was just a matter of execution.”

Within a minute of the start, Reineke stalks Sakellaris near the pin end of the line, controlling her opponent with a late hook. Sakellaris tacks out to find a late hole, but Reineke follows, and eventually both boats start in the second row. When Sakellaris tacks again to try and find clean breeze, Reineke follows in a controlling position, forcing both boats towards the right side of the course. A furious tacking duel ensues, with Reineke positioning herself to windward each time, never letting her opponent get to leeward and ahead.

An injury sustained during a SailGP event in 2023 setback Reineke’s ILCA campaign, but her perseverance in PT had her in top form for the Trials. Lexi Pline/US Sailing Team

After rounding the mark in eighth Reineke’s trademark downwind speed catapults her into second place through the gates, and for a moment, she thinks about how glorious it would be to finish with a bullet. “There’s always a part of you that wants to win the race,” says Reineke, “but with the conditions we had, it was more important to stay between her and the next mark versus trying to do something crazy for the race win.”

The discipline pays off by the time the two boats finish in 14th and 17th, and after securing her dream berth to the Olympics, the first person Reineke sees is coach Bowers. “We’ve been through so much together over the last two years and it was awesome to jump on his RIB and take that moment in together. He’s worked the hardest on my team of anyone, so that was really special.”

By the time she reaches shore, Reineke is greeted by her parents and sister, who choke back tears as they lift the boat onto the dolly. Yet even amidst the celebrations, Reineke knows the job isn’t done, and in many ways, this is just the start to the grueling months ahead. She won’t even have much time to celebrate, as she’s scheduled to fly to Barcelona the next day for some simulator training with American Magic.

With the summer games starting up in August, Reineke and Bowers will depart to Palma this week to check in with the international fleet. It’s been nine months since Reineke saw true international competition at the Worlds last year, so they’ll use this time to see which areas she still needs improvement before heading to Marseilles later this summer. “It was great to finally get the berth,” says Reineke, “but I knew very quickly once we got back to shore that it was going to be a quick turnaround and I’d have to get my ass moving again.”

Reineke and her coach Erik Bowers share similar traits and a determination to get to the Games. Lexi Pline/US Sailing Team

It appears to be business as usual for Reineke, and at least for now, business is good. As for her chances at a medal, Reinke isn’t underestimating the amount of work it will take to have a shot at the podium. “I think it’s going to be really hard,” she says, “but we have a plan in place and if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that you have to have faith in the plan. The podium is pretty shaken up right now and there’s no clear favorites, so if we do the things we need to do and stick to the plan, I see one-hundred-percent medal potential.”