The youngest athlete representing the Cayman Islands in Rio this year will compete Monday in the “Laser Radial” race.
Florence Allan, 18, is the only sailing competitor from Cayman at the 2016 Summer Games, and is only the second female sailor from these islands since Tomeaka McTaggart competed in 2002.
Speaking from Rio as she prepared for her Olympic debut, Allan said, “It’s really difficult to know what to expect here because the bay is such a challenging place to sail. It could be windy, it could be light winds, there could be lots of current, there could be none. “It’s really difficult to predict that so I’m just trying to keep an open mind and just be ready for anything come Monday afternoon.”
Since arriving in Rio last month, Allan and her coach Raphael Harvey have been traveling by bus more than an hour each day to the Olympic Sailing venue, Maria de Gloria, to train for two to three hours at a time.
Allan said she teams up with sailing friends from Bermuda and St. Lucia when she and her coach get to Maria de Gloria. “If we can get onto a bigger group of people, usually it’s better for us to make it the same as what it would be in a race. We train with them for a few hours.
“We come back to the village, eat dinner and go to bed, that’s pretty much been every day since we’ve been here, which is pretty boring, but I guess that’s what it takes.”
Allan will be one of 37 sailers competing in the women’s Laser Radial class, along with 2012 Olympic gold medalist Lijia Xu, 2012 silver medalist Marit Bouwmeester, currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Sailing Federation, and Alison Young of Great Britain, among others.
Allan, currently ranked 155 in the world in the women’s Laser Radial by the International Sailing Federation, has come a long way since she first took up the sport 11 years ago.
Upon being invited to compete against the world’s best, she said, “I never thought I would be able to go at 18. It’s by far my biggest sporting achievement today and maybe even ever.”
For Allan, like the other athletes, competing in Rio is the culmination of years of preparation.
She competed in numerous youth-level competitions and set her goal on qualifying for the Youth Olympics so that she could be one step closer to her dream.
In 2014, she and fellow sailor Pablo Bertran qualified for the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China by sailing in the Byte CII World Championships, where she finished sixth in the women’s division.
At the Youth Olympics Games, Allan sailed in the same qualifying class, placing 22nd overall across eight races.
Throughout their sailing career, Allan and Bertran have progressed through Optimists, Laser 4.7s and byte CII fleets.
In trying to qualify for the Olympics, Bertran and Allan advanced to the standard Laser and Laser Radial fleets, respectively.
Allan says she did not expect her invitation to compete in the Rio Olympics.
“[Coach] Raph [Harvey] has been so incredibly supportive, and he’s been there from my first regatta up to the Olympics. That’s a pretty special relationship that we have,” Allan said. “He started all with me, and now I’ll be competing at the Olympics. The sailing club has been great for allowing me to compete overseas, and train here in North Sound, and they’ve given me every opportunity to compete and do what I love, and qualify for Rio. A big thank you to them for supporting me.”
Following her debut at the Olympics, the former Cayman Prep A-levels student will attend the University of Exeter in England to pursue a bachelor of arts in politics, philosophy and economics.
Last month, the Dart company announced Allan as one of two scholarship recipients for 2016.
Since taking up competitive sailing in 2012, Allan has competed in Canada, the U.S, Malaysia, Oman and the Bahamas.
Throughout the U.S., Allan has sailed in Miami, Florida, for the ISAF Sailing World Cup and in several Orange Bowl Regattas – one of the world’s largest youth regattas. In Manteo, North Carolina, she sailed the International Laser Class North American Championships.
She also raced in Canada’s Laser Radial Youth World Championships and in Oman’s Women’s Radial World Championships in 2015, and in the Youth World Championships in Langkawi, Malaysia, alongside Bertran earlier this year.