Sophomores don’t often take a semester off from college, but most sophomores don’t have a shot to qualify for the Olympic Games either.
Bob Willis ’09 did just that to spend 10 months campaigning in the RS:X sailboard class for the 2008 games in Qingdao, China. He narrowly missed out on qualifying and ended up second on the U.S. team. But Willis took many positives from the experience.
“Leading up to the (U.S. Olympic) Trials, I didn’t really know where I was going to stand,” he says. “But I was pleasantly surprised at how close I was. I felt like if I had put another year into training I could have won the regatta.”
Willis graduated in December with a degree in economics and has begun his second Olympic campaign, for London 2012. He hopes his prior experience will help him earn him a ticket across the pond.
“One thing I quickly learned from the 2008 trials was how much strength and fitness you need to compete over an eight- to nine-day windsurfing regatta,” Willis says.
His 6-foot-4-inch frame makes him tall for the class and well-suited to a stronger breeze, but in light air he has to work significantly harder than smaller sailors. As a result, his training is intense: On a typical day he’ll spend two hours running and lifting and then windsurf for three hours in the afternoon.
The Olympic hopeful raced doublehanded dinghies for the Camel sailing team but was already an accomplished windsurfer and a two-time junior national champion before college. When the Olympic sailboard class switched to the RS:X for 2008, Willis thought this more familiar design might give him a chance at the Olympics.
“I gave it a try at the 2006 Miami Olympic Class Regatta and the coach I was working with convinced me to take a semester off to campaign for the 2008 Olympics,” Willis says. “I campaigned hard for 10 months and felt I had a pretty successful Olympic Trials even though I didn’t win. I wasn’t completely confident of my abilities then, but I won four races and I think I can be better.”
Willis has returned to the circuit full time. His upcoming schedule for March and April includes major regattas in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Hyeres, France.
- Franz Ritt
You can follow Willis at www.bobsails.com and on Facebook. He’s scheduling a fundraiser that will include a high-end raffle at the College on March 6.