Eray waits on the wind in quest for third World Championship medal

Michele Eray can still remember in minute detail how she snatched the inaugural ICF Ocean Racing women’s world title back in Portugal in 2013.

She can give a blow-by-blow description of how the race unfolded, who passed her, who she passed, and the mistakes her opponents made that opened the door just wide enough for her to slide through and become world champion.

It was only a slither of a chance, but it was enough. Eray nosed out fellow South African Michelle Burn by just over one second, with another teammate, Nikki Mocke, third.

She followed up with silver in 2015 behind New Zealand’s Teneale Hatton, and will head on to Hong Kong Harbour tomorrow looking to add to her medal collection.

38-year-old Eray jokes about her age, but she also knows it’s her experience that might just be the difference when the podium places are up for grabs.

“With experience comes confidence,” Eray, who now races for the USA, said this week.

“Going into events knowing that I’ve done the work is good. I had a plan when it was going to be windy. That’s my forte, that’s obviously where I back myself as a downwind paddler, and the more technical the better.

“The years of experience really adds up.”

CONDITIONS

There are two distinct camps competing in Hong Kong this weekend. There’s the experienced group who are hoping the wind and the waves really pick up, and then there’s the sprinters who want it as flat as possible.

Eray falls into the former group, and trained accordingly. She couldn’t hide her disappointment on Thursday with the weekend forecast of calm conditions.

“When it’s flat it comes down to how strong and how fast you are,” she said.

“The women who are coming through the ranks are very impressive athletes. They’re strong – we’ve got sprinters here from Sweden, we have athletes from South Africa, we’ve got surf ski paddlers that are good on the flatwater.

“So now my tactics have changed a little. These aren’t my conditions, so I’ll have to just try and go with the flow. I didn’t train for this, I trained for a downwind unfortunately.”

Much has changed for Eray since her first world championships in 2013. Besides the aforementioned change of nationality, she now also runs her own business and, like a lot of athletes, is juggling training and work on a daily basis.

“I’ve now crossed over into the next phase, where I have a business, and I coach, so I have about 30 balls in the air, so it’s getting hard now because I’m still trying to work while I’m racing,” she said.

“It’s not easier any more, it’s got harder.”

“I feel fantastic, but just to make the podium this year would be great for me.”

THE FUTURE

After such a long and accomplished career Eray is determined to do what she can to ensure the sport keeps growing. She’s been to an Olympics, she’s travelled the world, and now she’s on committees making decisions that will benefit athletes well into the future.

“I’m proud of it, it’s great to watch it grow,” Eray said.

“Race organisers in South Africa and Australia, they do such a great job of promoting the sport. I’m based in the USA now, and we have a little surf ski school and we’re bringing new people into the sport every day.

“It’s just nice to feel this excitement, everyone’s pumped. To be able to go to a World Championships for surf ski, especially when we try and pitch it to little kids that we are trying to get involved. There’s an Olympics for flatwater, but there’s still a World Championships for surf ski.

“This is our third World Championships, and I think it’s only going to get better from here.”

And in her 25th year of paddling, is a third consecutive podium in the offing this weekend?

“To be able to be here is everything for me,” she said.

“I don’t know how I will go, but the privilege of having this life, and living this lifestyle, is one I don’t regret.

“Of course I get nervous. Nerves are a good sign, I think the day I don’t have nerves is the day I’ll put the paddle away and sit and have a coffee.”

The 2017 ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Championships begin on Saturday.

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