June 2024

One month until the Olympic Games!

Paris 2024 is fast approaching, so we decided to ask the SSL sailors about their memories from past Olympics. Tõnu Tõniste gave us an interview and shared his impressions from the Olympic Games in Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992), where he won a silver and a bronze medal in the 470 class, respectively.

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in sports, and how did you choose your specific discipline?

I got into sailing completely by accident at the age of 9, when a sailing coach came to my school's physical education class and invited the children to sail. Although I knew nothing about sailing, it seemed like an exciting sport to try with my brother and friends. As of today, I have been sailing for about 50 years.

2. Can you describe your training regimen leading up to the Olympics?

I was completely focused on sailing. We also constantly kept ourselves in good physical shape. Old training journals were a great help to me. Reading the old journal helped me focus better on the Olympics.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for the Olympics?

Before the 1988 Olympic Games, when Estonians had to compete in the USSR team, it was a big challenge to get good foreign sailing equipment (boat, mast, sails, etc.) and qualify for the Olympics through various competitions.

In 1992, we could go to the Barcelona Olympics already under the free Estonian flag. The nation’s expectation of winning an Olympic medal for Estonia caused a lot of tension for us. However, the expectations were justified as we were already Olympic medalists in 1988, had just won the European championships in the 470 class, and got 2nd place in the 1991 pre-Olympics.

4. How did it feel to represent your country on such a prestigious international stage?

It is always a very proud feeling to represent your people and country at the Olympic Games.

5. What was the most memorable moment from your Olympic experience?

It is definitely a very good feeling when it is clear after the last race that you have won a medal! At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, we were the leaders before the last race. Even in the last race, where the wind was very strong, we were firmly ahead of our main competitor for the gold, the French team Peponnet-Pillot, until almost the end, but then our boat capsized. So we lost a certain gold, but we were also very happy about the silver.

6. How did you handle the pressure and expectations leading up to and during the Games?

We had tough experiences with the USSR national team, where you had to prove yourself all the time, even in training competitions. We always had to be much better than the others or we would have been kicked out of the national team, so we were quite used to pressure and adjusting to it.

7. Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories or moments that the public might not know about?

When we went to the Olympics in 1988, our coach Rein Ottoson was not allowed to come with us; instead, a KGB employee came with the team as “our coach."

**8. What lessons did you learn from your Olympic journey that you apply to your life today?**

No matter how important the competition is, you have to take it as a normal competition, make as few mistakes as possible, and do your best. Don't overthink it. Then the best result will come.

9. How did your life change after competing in the Olympics?

In 1988, as young 21-year-old boys, my brother and I became very famous in Estonia. Almost everyone knew us, and we received many valuable gifts such as an apartment, a car, and a cottage.

10. What advice would you give to young athletes aspiring to compete at the Olympic level?

You have to be 100% committed to it; only then can you hope to reach the top.