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Postcards from Bob: Beware the black flag

August 15, 2012

U.S. windsurfer and Chicago native Bob Willis has been giving RedEye a glimpse into his experiences at the London Olympics.

Heading into the first race day, I was relaxed and confident in preparation. I was proudly wearing my American flag spandex pants on top of my wetsuit and eagerly awaiting the first start gun. When I was on the water, I had a realization that this regatta seemed like any other event in Weymouth, excluding the fact that we had pink sails. It was cold, cloudy, windy and we were on a familiar course. This particular feeling of familiarity was what we were training for this past summer and allowed me to focus on the racing and leave the Olympic feeling behind for a few hours.

Day 3, Race 5 was a race I will remember forever. First, we had a general recall on the start of the race, then the fleet started under a black flag. The black flag rule essentially imposes a zero tolerance policy to starting—if you are over the line, you are disqualified for the race and you cannot go back to clear yourself and restart. There was a group of about six of us pushing hard at the boat end of the line … the favored end. Four of us (Israel, Columbia, Czech and myself) got called "over." Once I saw "USA" on the DSQ board, my stomach locked up and it was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced and I will remember it forever—I cried, couldn't eat nor talk and was simply in shock.

What was particularly difficult about this was I had about 40 minutes to recover from it before I had to race again. My coach, Peter, did an unbelievable job of getting me to refocus; however, it didn't seem like I fully recovered from the black flag. The second race, I was timid on the start line, had a poor start and could never battle back into the top quarter of the fleet.

Overall, my regatta was a mixed bag. There were facets I was satisfied with; however, I did leave a lot of points on the board and I still have distraught feelings about my black flag DSQ. The most frustrating and disheartening part was clearly the middle days, when the top 10, even top 5 was well within reach before my string of bad races. I demonstrated that I clearly have the ability to be in the top 10 in the world; however, my inconsistency dragged down my score. All in all, I am pleased with how the event went.

After my event, I absorbed as much of the Games experiences as possible. I traveled up to London for a few days, stayed in the vibrant London athlete's village and enjoyed as many events as possible. I was able to see BMX biking, track and field, synchronized swimming (really cool) and also the men's gold medal basketball game vs. Spain. It was pretty special interacting with all of the Olympic athletes for a few days in London.

Finally, I received an abundance of supportive notes, emails, phone calls and text messages over the past few weeks. I greatly appreciate all of the incredible support from my supporters. Knowing many of you were intently following my racing gave me an extra edge and I am very thankful of that.

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