THE biggest improvements you make are when you are forced outside your comfort zone.
That is the mantra that has driven Laser Radial sailor Krystal Weir for most of her journey to a second Olympic Games.
It is a journey that, courtesy of her first coach Lex Bertrand, has sometimes been intentionally rocky and occasionally even gone backwards.
“He was always about pushing the limits and doing things out of the box,” Weir, 27, told The Weekend Australian. “We used to do a lot of crazy things.
“The good thing about Port Phillip Bay is that it’s quite big and you can tow out to the middle of the bay and no one can really see what you’re doing.
“Lex used to put a rope around my mast and tow me as fast as he could, or he used to get the power boat wake and literally swamp me; throw different objects into the water and I had to pick them up while I was still sailing and be really fast in my decision-making, just harassing me from his coach boat.
“The training sessions were super hard when I was younger and really toughened me up.
“One day we tipped over and he had my boat on tow and I had fallen out of the boat and he just kept it idling forward, so I was swimming after the boat for like 15 minute because I had let go of the rope to the boat. It was just a punishment, because when you tip over you never let go of the boat.”
The unorthodox techniques of Bertrand, the brother of America’s Cup-winning skipper John, proved successful and in 2004 Weir was crowned the world Laser Radial world champion.
“There’s not always one way to get to the top, there’s many ways you can travel to get there and Lex was always all about fast tracking me and pushing me,” Weir says.
“We even used to go out in 40 knots and everyone used to look at us like we were nuts, or he’d say sail backwards, and I’d look at him and say, what do you mean sail backwards, we sail forwards and he was like, no, learn how to sail backwards, so I learned how to sail backwards.”
Despite this early success in the class Weir missed out on selection for the Beijing Olympics to Sarah Blanck, but six months out from the 2008 Games was thrown into the three-crew Yngling team when Nicky Bethwaite broke her shoulder and wrist in a mountain bike accident.
Weir finished 10th with Karyn Gojnich and Angela Farrell, but the Beijing Games were an invaluable experience and, strangely for an athlete competing in a solo class, the most important thing Weir took away from it was the importance of communication.
“Now I kind of talk to myself rather than talking to my crew and that helps to simplify things,” she says.
“I’m just telling myself to go harder. Our races are like an hour long and leaning out the boat is quite painful on your quads and so that’s the main thing I say to myself — go harder.”
Now, training out of the Sandringham Yacht Club and the Victorian Institute of Sport, Weir has been refining Bertrand’s fundamentals with her coach of the past 18 months, Laura Baldwin.
But as is the way of the Victorian, who gave away an opportunity to play state hockey to concentrate on sailing, this new relationship is also a bit out of the ordinary.
“Laura and I used to compete against each other,” Weir says. “She’s . . . from Great Britain, so it’s good to get that little bit of sneaky British intel, and she grew up on the waters of Weymouth, so that’s quite an advantage.”
Weir has already spent time at Weymouth, the Olympic venue, ahead of the start of her Games campaign, on July 30.
“I’m feeling confident going into this Olympics, certainly a lot more confident” than last time “because we could only do so much before Beijing”, she says. “This time it’s a different story.”