Lisa Darmanin on chasing Olympic medals

MySailing editor, Greta Quealy, caught up with Nacra 17 sailor Lisa Darmanin back home in Sydney after time spent in hotel quarantine following an eventful Tokyo Olympics.

Cousins Lisa Darmanin, 30, and Jason Waterhouse, 29, had a mammoth task ahead of them in the Mixed Nacra 17 Medal Race at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – and they almost pulled it off.

Bronze was up for grabs. They just had to put four boats between them and the German crew. It sounds achievable but they had to contend with a huge talent pool in the Nacra 17 fleet.

Off the start line, the odds seemed to favour the Australian duo who won Silver in Rio (they missed out on gold by one point to the Argentinian crew). They went into the Medal Race at Tokyo in fourth place, with bronze in their sights.

Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS), Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) and Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank (AUT) on the podium at the Rio 2016 medal ceremony.
2016 Rio Olympic Games Nacra 17 medallists: Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS), Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) and Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank (AUT). Pic – World Sailing/Sailing Energy

“We got a penalty on the start on the Germans, so that job was done. And we managed the Germans and the Spanish from there,” Darmanin said of the Tokyo Medal Race start line.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know when it happened, but we think it was on the second upwind that we caught some plastic on our foil and didn’t notice. We couldn’t really foil [where the boat sits above the water at an incredibly fast pace] downwind.”

And that, Darmanin said, was when she and Waterhouse knew they were out of medal contention.

The Italian team, Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti, won gold by 10 points. The Silver medallists John Gimson and Anna Burnet (GBR), were 18 points ahead of bronze medallists Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer (GER).

(left) John Gimson and Anna Burnet, (centre) Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti and (right) Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer standing on the podium at the medal ceremony.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic medallists: John Gimson and Anna Burnet (left), Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (centre) and Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer (right). Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Darmanin and Waterhouse finished in fifth place overall.

This loss devastated the duo who have sailed together for more than 12 years.

“Right now it still hurts not to bring home a medal, especially when you feel like you have the skills to do so,” said Darmanin, who learned to sail as a youngster at Manly 16ft Skiff Club. “But the fact is that we raced so incredibly well and all the decisions that we made on the racetrack were good.

“It will be easier to live with in the future.”

The preparation for the Tokyo Olympic Games was different from Darmanin and Waterhouse’s usual routine. Because of COVID-19, they weren’t able to train and race overseas.

“Unfortunately, being in Australia, we were isolated from the rest of the fleet for too long and the Nacra 17 is new, so the class was developing really fast and we probably underestimated how big that was,” Darmanin said. “So that definitely hurt us, but I guess you can’t control a pandemic.”

Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin sailing the nacra 17 on foils, followed by a bunch of boats.
The foiling Nacra 17 made its debut at Tokyo 2020. Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

The Mixed Nacra 17 class was new on the scene at the 2016 Rio Olympics, before the class became foiling for Tokyo 2020.

Darmanin said the conditions on Enoshima Yacht Harbour were tricky.  

“It was not what we expected in terms of racing conditions,” Darmanin said. “Most of our races were about 12-15 knots and choppy. Whereas we were expecting more light chop or big wind and waves.”

The highly-skilled competitors added another layer of complexity, and pain, to the mix.

“The competition was pretty tough. We were really shocked – Gold and Silver were miles faster than the rest of us. We definitely were not expecting that.”

Nacra 17s on a kite run, being led by the Italians.
According to Darmanin, the top two teams at the Olympics were “too quick.” Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

That’s not to say the Australians didn’t put up a good fight. They achieved results in the top 10, the majority in the top group. They gained a second place in race one and won race seven.

Darmanin and Waterhouse’s coach, Darren Bundock, Silver medallist in the Tornado class at the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games, was at Enoshima to witness those wins.

“We raced really well. Speed was our biggest enemy, and we spent a lot of time looking at the footage every night, and we tried to learn,” Darmanin said. “But we didn’t have enough time to catch up to [the winning teams]. They were too quick.”

Although disappointed with the overall result, Darmanin remains proud of her and Waterhouse’s achievements.

“I was really proud of how we mentally took on the Olympics. It’s disappointing, but I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it because I don’t think, in hindsight, there would have been a lot I could have changed.”

Her partnership with Jason Waterhouse, ‘Jase’, is watertight. Waterhouse is currently in Europe for Sail Grand Prix where he is the flight controller for the Australian SailGP Team.

The Australian SailGP Team posing for a photo with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark.
Jason Waterhouse (second to the right) with the Australian SailGP Team following its win at Aarhus in August. Pic – SailGP

“Jase and I get on really well – most of the time,” Darmanin said, laughing. “It makes it a little easier being family but our goals are aligned. We know we’re both there to do the best we can, we’re both there to chase the top pedestal. That makes it a lot easier, when you’re both all in. And we just have so much respect for the other person.”

Lisa Darmanin and Jason Waterhouse embracing on the boat at the Rio Olympics.
“We know we’re both there to do the best we can.” Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Darmanin is taking off the next couple of months after a hectic five years. She is also looking forward to building her skills as a commentator for events such as SailGP.

When it comes time to get back on the water, the Paris 2024 Olympic Games isn’t off the agenda. Darmanin said she wouldn’t rule out another crack at gold.

Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin on the trapeze, Lisa is bending her knees. Water splashing the bow.
“We’ve got skills to win the gold medal…” Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

“At this point, I feel like there’s a bit of unfinished business,” Darmanin said. “We’ve got skills to win the gold medal but there’s a lot that goes into executing an Olympic campaign. So we have to think if we’re willing to make all those sacrifices for a couple more years. And if we have the right tools to do so. For now the Olympics will have to be a TBC.”

If she and Waterhouse decide to aim for Paris, the Nacra 17 will no longer be the only mixed sailing class. The 470 class will also be mixed in 2024.

Nia Jerwood and Monique de Vries sailing the 470 upwind.
Australian Women 470 sailors Nia Jerwood and Monique de Vries. The class is set to become mixed for the Paris 2024 Games. Pic – Sailing Energy/World Sailing

“It’s good that there will be more mixed classes within the Olympics,” Darmanin said. “It’s good for men to sail with women and [for men to] realise that women are sailors and not women sailors.”

Darmanin and Waterhouse’s successful Nacra 17 partnership is a testament to this. According to Darmanin, the future for female sailors is looking good.

“I think it’s a good time to be a woman in sailing.”

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