Jonas Warrer hasn't had a great week. The 2008 Olympic gold medallist finished a lowly 19th at the Sailing World Championships in Aarhus last week, despite starting as the pre-race favourite in the 49er event.
Five days since that defeat, now in Jakarta, the 39-year old's mood may just change.
"I'm still a little upset about not doing well at the World Championships but I've got a very good chance to win gold," he says. The gold Warrer is referring to could come in the 49er sailing competition at the Games courtesy a couple of Indians he's coaching. KC Ganapathy and Varun Thakkar, his wards, are also incidentally favourites in the event, having won the Asian Championships earlier this year.
The trio's partnership is unusual for they are also active competitors. When Warrer's stint with the team concludes at the end of the Asian Games, they will revert to their old roles as rivals -- the two Indians looking to earn a place at the 2020 Olympics and Warrer seeking to earn the right to represent Denmark at Tokyo. For the moment though, the Indians are simply grateful to learn from, in Thakkar's own words, 'a legend in the sport'.
Warrer is all that and more, being an Olympic champion and regularly featuring on podiums in competitions even today. Thakkar recalls the duo's first fan-boy moment with Warrer on the ocean in 2014 during the Medemblik regatta in Holland. "Back then we were two 18-year olds and were really excited to be sailing next to him. He is a legend of sailing. There was a time when he passed us and while we were trying really hard to stay in the race, we pointed at him when he passed us," says Thakkar.
Warrer too noticed the two boys from Chennai, albeit for different reasons. "It was the European summer so I felt it was quite warm but these two boys from Chennai were completely covered with layers of clothes. So I wondered, 'who are these two tiny Indian boys who were going to be competing with me?'" The two Indians would make a further impression on him, not just due to their sartorial choices. "I recall they did really well. They were quite young so they did quite well," he says.
Although Warrer had also been coaching for a few years at that point, working with the two Indians wasn't really on the horizon then. He had the Rio Olympics to prepare for (he eventually finished fourth in that competition) and even after that when he did come to India to coach the Navy and Army teams, they were not on his radar. It was only after a succession of foreign coaches came and left in quick succession that Warrer took charge of Thakkar and Ganapathy, and that was just about a month ago.
It's only the details he is working on with the two. "The best thing he's taught us is how to take this tournament as just any other. Not to put too much pressure on ourselves just because this is the Asian Games," says Ganapathy. Warrer for his part has his fingers crossed. "I'd say it's a lot harder being a coach than a player because there are times you want to get on the boat and do things yourself but you have to trust your sailors instead," he says.
"He's the Usain Bolt of sailing." KC Ganapathy
The next tournament they will take part in will likely be the sailing regatta in Palma, Spain in June 2019. Warrer will have a point to prove. For although Denmark has earned an Olympic quota, he would want to prove that he deserves to claim that spot. "Obviously when we are going take part in tournaments, the competitive spirit will be there, but I will always have a special place for them because I have been their coach," he says.
The two Indian sailors say that any talk of rivalry would be unlikely at this stage. "Very honestly, the gulf between us is very vast. He's the Usain Bolt of sailing and we are like the best in Asia," says Ganapathy. But they hope that's not always going to be the case. "I'd say the way things are, we are on the way up in our career and Jonas is closer to the end of it. We won't do silly things like try to edge and get one inch ahead at the start of the race. If we are in the way of his boat right now, we will give way. But if we keep improving and we are in a position to get the better we might rethink our strategy in the future," he laughs.