C anada has qualified for sailing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games thanks to a pair of Nova Scotians who weren't even competing in the sport this time last year.
The team of Jacob Saunders and Oliver Bone secured a spot for Canada in the 470 men's sailboat competition—a class of dinghy with a crew of two—after finishing higher than any of the Mexican teams over the course of seven races at the 2020 Hempel World Cup Series in Miami last week.
"When we stepped back in, we were surprised, pleasantly surprised, at how naturally we fit back in the boat and felt like we were sailing pretty well," says Jacob Saunders from the regatta in Miami.
"Our training was going well and we felt confident going into the event. It was always fairly tight to make sure we kept the Mexicans behind us, but we did it fairly well."
Finishing ahead of teams from Mexico secures an Olympic berth for a Canadian team and gives Saunders and Bone a lead in the next competition in Spain in April, which will see the Nova Scotians face off against a team from Ontario and a team from British Columbia for the spot they just secured in Tokyo.
Neither athlete is a stranger to the Olympics. Saunders was one half of the brother duo, Team Saunders, in Rio in 2016. But then Saunders took three years off from sailing. Team Saunders' former coach, Bone, competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and retired from competing in 2011, but came out of retirement to give Tokyo a shot.
"I sailed with my brother, we sailed together for six years before the Rio Olympics in 2016 and then we both kind of joined the real world. I went back and finished my degree at Dal and then I got a job," says Saunders, who keeps close ties with friends still sailing and competing.
"(Bone) approached me about jumping back in the boat sort of last minute, to give it a shot and see if we could nab the qualification and compete for Tokyo. So it was really a pretty last-minute move and we just started training together in the fall in Halifax and then came down to Miami for more training in December," says Saunders.
Qualifying would have been extremely difficult without the help of their friends on the American team of Stu McNay and David Hughes. Along with encouraging the team to give it a shot, they set up Saunders and Bone with spare equipment so they could race in Miami.
"It's really been through our relationship with the Americans and being training partners with them that we were able to get on the water," says Chaplin-Saunders.
Training with their American friends lends other benefits: it gives the Canadian team a good sense of what it is they need to do to get better.
"We're really focused on the process of just continuing to improve. And we feel that if we keep focusing on that and keep working with the Americans, who are solidly top five in the world, we keep training with them and pushing them, we'll get better and we'll hopefully grow to the point where we're real contenders and compete at the games at a high level."