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An Olympian’s Return to Competitive Sailing

After missing out on the podium at the Rio Olympics, Women’s 470 skipper Annie Haeger stepped away from the sport that defined her, but the flame has been rekindled.

May 18, 2021
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Olympians Annie Haeger and Luke Ramsay in Rio.
U.S. Women’s 470 Olympian Annie Haeger and Team Canada Nacra 17 sailor Luke Ramsay, in Rio. A disappointing result for Haeger and crew Briana Provancha soured Haeger’s passion for the sport, but she is now returning to the racecourse. Will Ricketson/US Sailing

When Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha finished seventh in the 2016 Rio Olympics women’s 470 medal race, Haeger’s distraught reaction, disappointment and frustration went beyond what viewers saw on television, which one commentator described as “the devastation of Olympic competition.”

“I felt that I had let everyone down,” Haeger recently recalled from her home in Vancouver, BC. “There are so many people who get behind you when you compete in events like the Olympics: family, friends, supporters, fans, coaches and sponsors; not just in the four years leading up to the Games, but throughout your life. I’ve been sailing since I was five years old, and I felt that I had let all of them down.”

After that fateful race, Haeger sought out her then-boyfriend/now husband Luke Ramsay, who was competing in the Nacra 17 for the Canadian team. “After the defeat, I needed to be alone for about an hour. But the first person who showed up was Luke, who was preparing for his competition,” Haeger says. “We derigged the boat in complete silence which was exactly what I needed at the time. And that was the last time I touched a 470.”

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Haeger describes the days after the Olympics as being “super lost.” Her competitive spirit was broken. “Sailing had become a job that I felt I was no longer good at,” she says.

Haeger, now 31, was introduced to sailing at the age of five by her parents, Julie and Kent, in East Troy, Wisconsin. “I was heading down to the Christmas tree, so excited to see what Santa was going to give me, and it turned out to be an Optimist sailboat, and I immediately started bawling,” she recalls.

The rocky introduction to sailing took another turn three years later when she began a learn-to-sail program at a tiny little pond in Wisconsin. The result: a plaque to commemorate finishing 14th—essentially last last place. “My parents still have the plaque in their house,” Haeger says, “and they joke about my ‘stellar’ performance.”

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Haeger’s family spent a year living on a boat, travelling throughout Africa, Australia, Europe and New Zealand. Once back home in Wisconsin, she became a star soccer player and sailor for her high school team. Haeger won a silver medal in the 2007 Laser Radials at the Volvo Youth Worlds and met Briana Provancha, who won gold in the 29ers. Haeger describes meeting Provancha as the turning point in her sailing career. “I knew then that I wanted to win a gold medal,” she says, “specifically at the Olympics, and happen to have met the partner to do it with.”

Haeger was offered a college scholarship to play soccer, but she instead chose to attend Boston College and became a member of their sailing team. Haeger was a four-time Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association All-American and in 2011 was named the ICSA’s Women’s College Sailing of the Year in 2011, and Quantum Female College Sailor of the Year.

She and Provencha began training full-time for the Rio Olympics 470s in September 2012. At the time she said, “We have one goal, and only one: to bring home the gold medal for the United States in 2016.” They both qualified for the Rio games and Haeger went on to be named the 2015 U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.

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The wind on my face reminded me of the reasons why I loved sailing. I was thinking ‘Wow, how lucky I am to be able to do this.’

Haeger met Ramsay at a US Sailing Camp in 2013 and they married in 2018. Ramsay started sailing at 12 and won the 2006 ISAF Youth World Championship in the Laser class, and competed in the 2012 London Olympics in the 470s and the 2016 Rio games, where he finished 15th in the Nacra. Ramsay’s support, and the birth of their daughter Violet in 2020, were major factors in rekindling Haeger’s interest in sailing in the years after the Rio games. “Luke has been my super rock throughout,” she says. “Last summer, we did some small sailing rendezvous in the Vancouver area and that brought back my love of the sport. The wind on my face reminded me of the reasons why I loved sailing. I was thinking ‘Wow, how lucky I am to be able to do this.’ It restored my competitive fires.”

Haeger tried out for Stars + Stripes’ entry into the America’s Cup but did not make the team (nor did the team make it to the Cup), but she’s now planning on sailing with her husband at the 2021 C Scow Championship. “It’s nice to have something on the calendar to look forward to after the ‘blursdays’ we’ve all had with Covid,” Haeger says.

Her eyes are also on the Sunfish competition at the 2023 Pan American Games, which recently expanded from an open class to both a male and female class. One of her competitors during the country qualifiers will be Ramsay, who will be sailing for Canada. The international rivalry in their household has brought comparisons to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a movie about a married couple who work for competing spy agencies and find out they’ve been assigned to kill each other.

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“There’s been a lot of trash talk between Luke and I, and I’m usually the instigator,” Haeger says. “I kid with Luke that it’s too bad I won’t be able to beat up on him on the race course, but overall I’m happy to have the opportunity to represent my country again.”

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