A Summer In The South Of France Is Quality Prep Time For U.S. Sailors

by Karen Price

Daniela Moroz sailing on the ocean during the women's kite race.
Daniela Moroz competes during the women's kite race at the Paris 2024 Sailing Test Event on July 12, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Getty Images)

Daniela Moroz knows that most people’s jobs don’t involve spending the summer in the south of France, beginning each day with a stop at a small cafe for coffee and a fresh croissant.

“It’s such a vibe,” said the six-time formula kiteboarding world champion from Lafayette, California.

But the U.S. sailing team has camped out in Marseille this summer with a much greater purpose than just enjoying a beautiful locale. Marseille will be the venue for Olympic sailing in 2024, and Moroz and her teammates have been using this summer as an opportunity to learn all they can about it.

“Especially here in Marseille, because it’s a very technical venue and there are a lot of different conditions and just a lot that can happen,” said Moroz, who arrived in the port city about six weeks ago. “The more time you spend here, the more experience you get and the better you start to understand the place. The idea is to be as familiar with the different conditions as possible so that once race day comes around and you get some particular wind condition you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve seen this before.’”

Racing is underway this week in the Olympic Test Event, giving sailors their first opportunity to earn a nomination to next summer’s team. Fourteen U.S. athletes from 10 sailing disciplines — including Moroz’s formula kite class that will make its Olympic debut in 2024 — are competing through July 16.

A typical summer for the team would include a lot of time racing in Europe, Moroz said, but not necessarily operating out of the same location for six weeks.

“The focus has really been on spending a lot of time in Marseille in anticipation of the Olympics next year,” said Sarah Newberry Moore, a Miami native who races the Nacra 17 class along with David Liebenberg. “You want to be at the venue at the same time as the Olympics so you get a feel for the conditions at the same time of year. You want to make it feel like you’re at home and familiar with the place.”

Daniela Moroz sailing on the ocean during the women's kite race.
Daniela Moroz competes during the women's kite race at the Paris 2024 Sailing Test Event on July 12, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Getty Images)

This isn’t the first time the U.S. team has used an extended training period to gain more familiarity with the site of the most important event on the calendar. They also trained in Marseille for a while last fall, Newberry Moore said, and every little bit helps.

“Our sport is so unique in the sense that every day is a different playbook, so you want to be exposed to each set of conditions as much as possible to understand if there are patterns,” she said. “Even just being comfortable with the area and the city and knowing where to get food and where to work out and becoming comfortable in a routine at a venue is so important. The familiarity with the geography, the shoreline, all those things on the racecourse, these visual snapshots we take when we’re racing so if you see something repeatedly, like if the attitude of the wind near the national park is consistently a certain way, you’ll be much more inclined when racing to operate off muscle memory based on these snapshots you’ve taken of past days. That orientation is priceless.”

The test event itself differs from something such as a world championship, Newberry Moore said, because the fleet is much smaller. Instead of racing against 60 boats at the world championships, they’re racing against 20 at the test event, which will also more closely simulate Olympic racing.

“You wind up taking a bit more risks on a championship racecourse because you can gain or lose so much when you take those chances to gain leverage,” she said. “Those risky decisions can pay off big, whereas with an Olympic fleet I think it’s a bit more conservative because there’s not as much to gain.”

Newberry Moore and Liebenberg have been sailing together for five years, but this is their first year as a fully professional duo and the first they’ve been able to log more than 170 days on the water. She’s looking forward to seeing how the hard work will pay off both at the test event and the world championships next month in the Netherlands.

“Our peak event this year is the world championships because that’s the first opportunity to qualify us for a spot at the Olympics,” Newberry Moore said. “Our class is extremely competitive, so that competition is deep for those limited number of spots and we’re really focused on executing at that level.”

For Moroz, who sailed her first world championships at the age of 15 and won her first of six consecutive world titles a year later, the pressure is “definitely on a little bit” at the test event, but she’s loving every minute of it. Having been in kiting for eight years, she’s seen it go from a regular sailing class to an Olympic class and is aiming to be one of the first to call herself an Olympic kiter. 

“Being part of that whole development, seeing how the sport has changed and getting so much more professional, it’s cool to be part of that,” she said. “Now I’m very much enjoying the experience and being part of the U.S. sailing team. Having USA on your jersey and the flag on your board, there’s nothing like it and being able to represent the U.S. is super special. I feel really grateful to be able to do that. Hopefully I can perform on the water and be able to go to the Olympics next year.” 

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