Over the past year André Højen Christiansen (DEN) has had the opportunity to learn from one of the best Finn sailors of all time. In 2015 he was invited to join the training group of double world champion and London 2012 silver medalist Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) as he prepared for the Rio Olympics. Højen Christiansen jumped at the chance, knowing that opportunities like that don’t come along every day.
“I hadn’t sailed for that long when Jonas came to me and said “you can join me and my training group”, so I thought that was a very big opportunity for me. I learned a lot about what is needed, both in the boat, equipment wise, but also mentally about all this Olympic stuff. He is also very good on strategy so I learned a lot of that from him as well, but in the end it was about trying to put it into my own boat.”
“I think that Finn sailing is very cool right now, and the physical part of Finn sailing is very nice. I like to bike a lot, so it makes sense that I am in this class. And now the boys are getting much more athletic it just gives even more of the tactical stuff to the boat because you can concentrate more on that when you are in good physical shape.”
One of the key lessons learned from Høgh-Christensen, he says, was not to be lazy, not to just accept advice but to think about it, and question it. “He said when he was my age, all the young guys just wanted to be doing what they were told to do and that is what I am trying to change, but it’s a big change. It’s perhaps something that comes with being older. But he was actually right, when I thought about it.”
“He has said a lot of times that he does not want to coach but hopefully we can get him involved in some other way with Finn sailing. But this was his way to pass on the knowledge to us.”
The joint training came to an end after the Gold Cup in Gaeta in May this year. “So that’s what I have been doing since I stopped sailing with him. I think Jonas decided he decided he had given me all he wanted to do and he wanted me to focus on the U23 Worlds here, because it was on home waters.”
This year’s Silver Cup is Højen Christiansen’s last year as an U23, but the training with Høgh-Christensen has given him a great insight into an Olympic campaign and helped him to plan his own future much better.
“I have made a decision. It’s tough to plan four years away but my plan right now is to put a lot of effort into it until 2018 when the first nation’s spots will be decided at the 2018 Sailing World Championships here in Aarhus, and then I will see and take a decision from there. It was actually a plan I made with Christian, Jonas’s coach. He said it’s sometimes good to bring the goals a little closer so you don’t feel that it’s all too far away.”
With many of the ‘older’ sailors expected to ‘retire’ after the Rio Olympics, the focus is turning to the large number of youth sailors as they start to prepare for Toyko 2020, many of whom are here this week in Aarhus. “It looks like we have a good group now of people of the same age so hopefully, we can join together. Already the Germans have reached a high standard so maybe we can work with them and also Anders [Pedersen] from Norway and Luke [Muller] from the USA. We have arranged something for the September to train here.”
Similar to almost every sailor in Aarhus this week, Højen Christiansen dreams of sailing and winning at medal in the Finn at the Tokyo Olympics. It is a lifestyle choice filled with commitment and hard work but he says it is what drives him every day.
“I have always had a big dream about being part of the Olympics. Before I met Jonas it was just a dream, but he gave me some tools to work with and taught me the lesson that it’s very hard work. But he didn’t kill my dream; he actually just helped me a little bit more into it. So let’s see. It’s going to be a fun journey.”