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Get Acquainted With Canadian Olympic Sailor & Windsurfer; Nikola Girke

Nikola Girke Interview

The three-time National Youth Sailing Champion and soon-to-be four-time Olympian that is Nikola Girke learned to sail right here at home in Vancouver.

The UBC grad is one of the few to have pursued her goals in two different Olympic classes: the 470 dinghy at Athens 2004 and the RS:X sailboard at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Now she partners with fellow Vancouverite Luke Ramsay to compete in another discipline, the brand new mixed Narca 17 catamaran class at Rio 2016. The sailing pair qualified earlier this year in Miami.

Girke, nicknamed Pickle, heads into the summer games as Canada’s top female windsurfer having recorded a 10th place finish in London. With a racing career that developed at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, the sailing and windsurfing veteran looks to her next challenge and goals:

What got you into the world of sailing and windsurfing as a kid?

My dad was an avid sailor and my parents put my sister and I into sailing summer camp at Eagle Harbour Yacht Club. I loved it. Once sailing, I saw the colourful windsurfers ripping back and forth across English Bay – so fast, so graceful. That’s all it took. I bought my first windsurfer before I could even windsurf and once I got going, I was hooked. Then I just couldn’t make up my mind between the two sports and I flip flopped back and forth between sailing and windsurfing.

Nikola Girke Interview

What does it mean to represent Canada in your fourth summer Olympic game? 

It has always been an honour to be able to qualify and represent my country, no less at my 4th Games than the first. Having it be my 4th Games in a 3rd discipline makes it a very special accomplishment for me. It will be my first Games sailing in the Nacra17 – which is a newly instated mixed-gender catamaran, a first of its’ kind in Olympic sailing and one that has this unique team dynamic bar in figure skating and equestrian.

Having competed in different boat classes, how did you make those strategic decisions?

They were not always easy decisions – I had windsurfed before I jumped into the double-handed 470 dinghy for Athens, and after a 3 year campaign with my teammate, I craved to be on my own again, back on a windsurfer. Just that year they brought a new ‘more modern’ windsurf board into the Olympic slate and I figured that it was the right time to make the jump if it were ever going to happen.

It was a daunting goal but one that I worked relentlessly towards. 3 years later, after competing in Beijing on the RSX windsurfer, I felt like I still hadn’t really learned half of it. I had spent 3 years just learning how to sail the board, and there was still so much to learn in terms of how to race it. Thus, it made continuing towards London a pretty easy decision. 3 weeks after the Olympics I was back training. It wasn’t until Windsurfing got ousted from the Olympic slate in 2012 just before the London Games, that I then I had figure out what was next for me after London. The Nacra17 – the new mixed catamaran that was instated was not even on my mind, but when my now teammate Luke’s coach came up to me at the last night party and played match-maker on Luke and I – the idea of another Olympic goal became an interesting opportunity, one which I didn’t want to miss.

Nikola Girke Interview

What’s your mentality going into Rio 2016 and competing in the new mixed Nacra 17 boat class?

I’m super positive and excited about the chance to compete in the Nacra with my team in Rio. It’s a completely different cup of team sailing in a mixed class, but one thing I know is that we have each other’s back and we are both relentless in our efforts to succeed as a team. We are ticking boxes each day; it’s a great feeling to have and sets us up nicely mentally for the Games.

What is your goal as a professional athlete? 

My athletic goal has always been to win an Olympic medal, but when it comes down to it all, not everyone can win and winning isn’t everything, and if that is what will define me then I’m doomed. That’s why I say just the athletic goals. As a professional athlete I want a daunting goal and to finish it strong, to be an inspiration to others to dream big and live fully. To be active and healthy, to find joy in the things we do and can share with others around us. To become a better person through learning how to work both individually and as a team and how to both win and lose gracefully.

What advice would you give to the next generation of aspiring Canadian athletes?

Never give up. Keep having fun. Passion and enjoyment trumps the hard work needed to succeed.


Follow Nikola Girke’s Olympic journey on Twitter.


Photo: nikandluke.com
Interview by Amar Mirchandani

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