For Deniss Karpak (EST), his Olympic Finn ambitions are more than a singlehanded drive for the gold. For him it is very much a family affair. While his mother, Marina, is the team manager, his father Igor is the head coach. They travel with him everywhere, working together as a very tight unit, but also making sure it is fun along the way.
Karpak’s eleventh place at the London 2012 Olympics was not the position that he had hoped he would finish. Though he had briefly risen to the World No. 1 a few months beforehand, he only managed three top 10 race finishes in 2012, including one of the biggest race wins of the week. He has much higher hopes for Rio. “All my techniques are sharper.”
Before London he had sailed the Laser in Beijing, finishing a lowly 24th (even though he had won bronze at the 2007 World Championships in Cascais), but even before the end of the regatta, his thoughts were focussed on his next steps in sailing, and the Finn. He was 2 metres tall and the Laser was not big enough for him any more.
He comes from a very sport orientated family, with both his parents at some time also trying for the Olympics. His father campaigned a Flying Dutchman for 1984, but missed out because of the USSR boycott, while his mother, a top swimmer, also missed out. Both his parents will be with him in Rio as usual. “With them I feel always like I am at home, because home is the place where my family is.”
Apart from one training camp in Rio in March, Karpak has been content to train in Europe doing all his normal routines, and not travel extensively to the Olympic waters. “It’s risky to stay too long in Rio. And there will be nothing new that I already saw in March. Maybe even less wind.”
“We have been in Rio for a few weeks, and I like it. It has a beautiful landscape from the land and from the ocean. Not so dirty water, with some doors, kitchen machines and plastic bottles, but I like the venue. There was a ‘funny’ moment, when we came from Niteroi to Rio by ferry, and I heard some shooting, thinking it’s some fireworks, but the people near told me, that is the mafia speaking.”
“The weeks before Rio Games will be the same as the usual weeks of summer. Fun and sailing. It will be a few weeks after my 30th birthday, so I will be almost a new person there. A mature sailor.” At the Games, he says, “Mental strength and focus will play a major role.”
So, “Between now and the Games I’m doing my regular training. Water and fitness. No changes.”
He says his favourite venue has always been Kiel Week. “I like the place and it’s very similar to my hometown Tallinn. This year I was trying to win for the fourth time, but it was a hard week and I was ended up battling for one of the lower medals, not gold. I was a bit disappointed but made a lot mistakes made...in spite of three bullets and the medal race win.” Since then he has largely been training in Italy before heading down to Rio at the end of July.
Karpak is always busy outside of sailing. “I’m developing as a person, a multi-tasking person, where not only sailing exists. That a big difference between Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016, where sailing was all I had and all I could do. Now it’s a part of my life, my hobby, my work – I get paid for my sailing – and I’m very happy to be a part of this beautiful sport.”
He also writes books. “Not many Finn sailors do that.” He currently promoting his book ‘Breathe underwater’. “I have written since 2011 and when I have some free time, I write small novels. The plan is to finish my first real – 150+ page – book before 2017.” He says this book is just a demo, but he has already got a lot of “awesome feedback”. He writes under the pseudonym of Ivan Brait. “Hopefully you will be able to get my book on the iTunes soon.”
He started a blog: DrugoiBlog.com in 2014, where “I was writing about life and things that interested me.”
Karpak is perhaps the most famous sailor in Estonia, winning the Estonian Sailor of the Year award eight times, and this fame has led to some spinoff activities.
He recently appeared in some photos as a model for some big brands. “It was just a photo shoot for a big Estonian brand Baltman, which makes suits. And my friends from another big international brand, American Crew, (professional line of shower gels, shampoos…etc for barbers and saloons) wanted me to be a face of their new campaign named ‘My first suite’ in Estonia. That’s it. I was previously also in some fashion campaigns and I like it, and hope to continue one day.”
But for the moment Rio is the focus. “Sport is a game, and I hope Rio will give us this opportunity – to play."