- Created on Friday, 10 August 2012 10:18
Editors Note: We would like to welcome Zach Brown as our newest member to the Airwaves team. Please look for his column here often on Sail1Design's Airwaves Newsletter. You can read Zach's bio a the bottom of this article. Please use our comment feature at the bottom of the article also to share your thoughts, here, on Airwaves.
The 2012 Olympics are coming to a close, leaving American sailors scratching their heads in astonishment wondering what happened in Weymouth. We sent our best sailors, many of whom had strong international results leading up to the Games, and yet the United States walked away without a single medal—something that hasn’t happened since 1936.
We are incredibly proud of our athletes, and we know they gave it their all. There is no denying that, given another regatta, the final team results would have been different. This is not a finger-pointing political debate. This article is not to question the talent or efforts of our best; it is an inquiry as to what happened and what we can do to ensure that this cycle’s mistakes aren’t repeated in Rio. We can roll over, put our heads in the sand and try to forget this happened, or we can turn the disappointment into a positive movement to revamp our Olympic sailing efforts.
Why did a country with a strong history of winning medals walk away empty handed? The team peaked too early, spent too much time at the regatta site, and had unrealistic expectations in the modern era of sport. What must we do to change this and guarantee our country medals going forward? Create a stronger pipeline of development and increase funding to compete against the countries with budgets three to five times larger than our own.
Peaking Too Early
The US Olympic sailing trials process for 2012 caused the team to peak too early and forced those who didn’t qualify to drop out prematurely. The trials system was revolutionary in a positive way compared to past qualifiers. For all classes but the Women’s Match Race, the trials system combined the overall finish of Weymouth’s Sail For Gold event in 2011 and the 2011 ISAF Worlds in Perth. Both venues provided conditions similar to those in the Games, and thereby selected athletes with the most skill in those conditions. The problem was, the trials finished eight months before the Games began while most other countries included the 2012 spring ISAF World Cup events as part of their qualification process.
The medalless finish in Weymouth could have been avoided if the trials were extended closer to the actual Games. The rivalries that ended after Perth in December 2011 could have pushed the Olympic team harder and forced everyone to peak later. From a development standpoint, a later trials would have given more experience to the greener teams looking ahead to the 2016, while keeping more experienced teams hungry and in the saddle.
Too Much Time in Weymouth
If Weymouth was a beautiful location with warmer weather and less rain, this point would be moot, but spending too much time there is downright depressing. The cold temperature that doesn’t usually exceed 60 °F, the constant cloud cover, and the frequent rain make Weymouth a difficult place to spend extended periods of time. The US team spent more time in Weymouth over the last year than almost every country. What seemed like a smart approach to get used to the conditions and practice routines might have backfired due to the taxing environment of Weymouth.
The results in Weymouth were not failures, but more of a mismatch of expectations. Sail boat racing has gone global and become more competitive around the world. Sailing began as an Olympic sport in Paris 1900, with 5 countries taking home 21 medals. Weymouth 2012 will feature 63 nations, competing for 30 medals. Crunching some numbers, it’s easy to see the ratio of the number of countries winning medals versus the total of medals up-for-grabs has increased over the last few Olympics.
For one reason or another, expectations set for the 2012 US Olympic Team were out of touch with reality. When a comparison is made between the US athletes’ results in Weymouth and their record at major events over the last year and a half, the statistics quantify that seven out of ten classes performed equal to or better at the Games than their average final positions at the events preceding. The US was simply not that well-positioned to take home a slew of medals in Weymouth. If the team had had a strong event, they had a chance to win three or four medals, but under the challenging conditions that prevailed, there were no medals.
Create a Better Pipeline
There is plenty of discussion about training the next generation of Olympians: How do we connect the Olympic pipeline to youth sailing? Where does college sailing fit in? What boats should be used in the development stages? These questions focus too much on the early stages of development; our attention should be directed towards supporting athletes who commit to campaigns. Why don’t we have a squad of at least three boats per Olympic class attending ISAF World Cup events? Most countries have at least two, if not four teams in each class at every international event. The Danish, British, and Germans had seven or more boats at almost every ISAF World Cup event in Europe in 2012 in the 49er. Looking at the US in 2012, six out of the ten classes had only one team competing in Europe this spring. Early Olympic trials contributed to this, but the greatest factor was the lack of support for teams campaigning for future Games.
The US Sailing staff encourages a team dynamic, but does not force it. The change needs to happen at the top with responsibility placed on the coaches for total class development, not individual achievement. Each Olympic class needs to have a database of proprietary information for any new team to step into a 470, laser, or 49er and know exactly how to set up the boat in each wind condition and be competitive. Videos and photos of training should be available with written notes for any newcomer to access and accelerate his/her learning curve. Once the machine is set up, it will run smoothly on its own. As the team gets stronger and more competitive, there will be less need to travel to Europe, which will reduce the cost of entry for any newcomer.
We are fighting an unfair battle against other countries because our Olympic sailing budget is significantly smaller than other lower ranking per capita to GDP countries. The British have somewhere between three and five times the Olympic sailing budget of the United States. Competing at the Olympic level requires an incredible amount of money. Budgets range from $70,000 to $200,000 a year.
The US can fold under the defeat of 2012, or we can turn around and pile in the resources we need to guarantee we never go medalless again. The US Olympic Committee that oversees all sports may pull its funding for sailing. It is up to us to keep that from happening. It is up to us to support our athletes.
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The graph below comes from the ISAF Olympic Page
Born and raised in San Diego, Zach was introduced to the sport of sailing by his parents who sailed catamarans in Southern California.
He fell in love with water sports and first started sailing at the age of 7. He had much success in junior sailing with victories in various boats. He was a Pram National Champion in 2001, a US Youth Champion in the 420 in 2003, a high school sailing A-division champion in 2003, and a 2 time Youth World representative for the US in 2003 and 2004.
Zach continued his sailing success at Yale University by receiving College Sailing All-American honors all four years. He led the team as captain in the 2007/2008 season and helped Yale achieve multiple top three finishes at nationals. He graduated Yale in 2008 with a double major in history and economics. Zach focused his efforts towards team racing directly after college taking the Hinman US National Championship title in 2009, the British Open Championship in 2010 and 2011, and placed second at the Team Race World Championship in 2011.
Realizing his dream of representing the US at the Olympics is now, Zach has transferred all his efforts to crewing in the Olympic Class 49er. Choosing the 49er for its speed, difficulty, and fun, Zach started sailing the boat in 2009. Zach and his teammate Fred Strammer began their campaign in 2011 with the goal of a gold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. He and Fred are confident that their passion, dedication, and hard work will pay off as they train full time for five years to earn the United States a medal. To learn more about their Olympic campaign in the 49er, check out their site at www.OURROADTORIO.com.
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