US isn’t competitive in medal chase at Tokyo 2020 because…

Sisu3360

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Without getting to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some elite sailors on my high school team (which I joined because I thought it would be ironic for my non-athletic ass to letter in a sport), I never would have pursued competitive sailing seriously. My college experience was a mixed bag, but I gained skill, confidence, and lasting friendships. Now I run a little keelboat program and recruit heavily from the club team at the local college, which is held together with spit and duct tape but has some of the most enthusiastic young sailors I've ever met.

Is Olympic sailing doing anything for me and my club? No, not really. I mean, it hurts to know that the greats in our sport are no longer coming from our shores, but that hardly matters to my local series.

That said, there is SOMETIMES a localized recruitment spike if success in a sport hits the news. For example, when the US won gold in Men's Curling, my significant other's curling club saw a massive surge in membership. I have yet to see that in sailing, and with the anticlimactic event format I don't think it will happen. I still say that Team or Match racing is the best format to use. A clear knockout format with clear win-or-lose matches makes for more compelling viewing.

 
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crashtack

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Hear hear. Without getting to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some elite sailors on my high school team (which I joined because I thought it would be ironic for my non-athletic ass to letter in a sport), I never would have pursued competitive sailing seriously. My college experience was a mixed bag, but I gained skill, confidence, and lasting friendships. Now I run a little keelboat program and recruit heavily from the club team at the local college, which is held together with spit and duct tape but has some of the most enthusiastic young sailors I've ever met.

Is Olympic sailing doing anything for me and my club? No, not really. I mean, it hurts to know that the greats in our sport are no longer coming from our shores, but that hardly matters to my local series.

That said, there is SOMETIMES a localized recruitment spike if success in a sport hits the news. For example, when the US won gold in Men's Curling, my significant other's curling club saw a massive surge in membership. I have yet to see that in sailing, and with the anticlimactic event format I don't think it will happen. I still say that Team or Match racing is the best format to use. A clear knockout format with clear win-or-lose matches makes for more compelling viewing.
2v2 teamracing in keelboats or something like 470s would be amazing but unlikely, seeing as they're trying to reduce athlete numbers

 

Sisu3360

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2v2 teamracing in keelboats or something like 470s would be amazing but unlikely, seeing as they're trying to reduce athlete numbers
The old Soling format (fleet racing to qualify for a match racing tournament) would at least be a start.

 

SimonN

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For the record I have had plenty of fun in slow equipment.... old gaffers and the like. But sailing (for example) a Cherub was about 3 times as much fun as a 470...lighter by about 50 %, faster, easier to rig and handle etc
Again, I respectfully disagree. Going out once or twice a week for a fun sail with little racing and yes, you are correct, the Cherub is more fun but for racing at top level, the Cherub is as boring as hell compared with top level 470 sailing. How exciting the boat is to sail is totally irrelevant at the top level, because even the 49er and Nacra 17 become fairly boring to sail when you sail it 250 days a year. Ask any Olympic competitor whether they would take their class out for a "fun" sail and the answer would almost certainly be no. That's why you see so many with either Moths or A's as their second boat, but even then, the boats would lose their appeal if they were being sailed 250 days a year.

2 things have to come together if you want to be an Olympic sailor. You have to love the competition for competitions sake and lets face it, the on the water competition in Olympic classes, slow or fast, is mindblowingly tight and exciting. The other thing is you need to be into the "process", which for most involves a lot of very boring and repetitive sailing, boat prep and analysis. I know many world class sailors who simply cannot stand that side of the campaign so stop.

 

Frogman56

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Simon,

Lets get this straight...

You want slow boats so there is lots of process to train up for the inevitably small gains. And plenty of ridiculous kinetics?

And slow boats so that half the very talented sailors become disinterested?

We will keep the 470 then and reinstate the Tempest and the Dragon!

Remember that the great P Elvstrom ended up in the Tornado, and wished he had done so 'much earlier'

 

Tcatman

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Well...  that is what Brenner, Adams and Page said when they took over and reinvented the wheel.  Funny that I can't find any document that ID's what is not working or the solution   We know the outcome is three 9th place finishes.   Cayard talking to his buddies on the beach in Japan is not a workable strategy imo.

 

JulianB

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So to the best of my knowledge, some time in the 1990's the then AYF [Australian Yachting Federation] turned themselves inside out and spured off the AST [Australian Sailing Team].     Initially it was funded by 4 very wealthy business men, but is now funded mostly by the AOC (given the rising medal count) and sponsorship.   The now AS [Australian Sailing] has very little to do with the AST, they are completly different boides with different funding streams.

Some time in the 2000's the RYA [Royaly Yachting Association (UK)) really turned them inside out, far more than what the then AYF did and this was Mckenisie's driven and to there absoulute credit, you had what could be called slatwarts of the establishment (RYA) voting themselves out of long held and very tresured positions for the greater good. Ror Carr took over as the new RYA head, Lotto Funding happened, Weymouth and all the rest of it happen and the rest is history.

If I can just dis-spell some myths.  Most of our elite sailors come from very humble backgrounds, a few have degrees, sure, but it is the exception to the rule, very few of the major clubs "support" Olympic asspirants,  to any extent, except after they start doing well, so they can get bragging rights.    The few cases I know very well, it's parents, family and friends that form the funding stream of most of our guy/gals and they have to do very well before then end up in any State IS or the ASTfunding stream.

Universities here back the Sharpies and other very parocial sailing classes.      Fabulous boats, the Sharpie is known as a "20ft coffin", only sailed one once or twice and I still remember the ride (in Melbourne) but the sailing scene in universities here is non-existant!

Someone else commented that you need a proffesional approach if you want to get medals, and a over arching stratagey.     I think that is a given, particularly given what the RYA and the then AYF did and the result.

It's not rocket-science!

Politically, very hard to tell someone who has given countless years of service, that his/her possition has to be given to some young up-start (with fresh ideas).

I have done my 30 years and very very happy to now stand back and give others a go, not that I was every invloved in coaching or managment (other than the 18teens).

                                   jB

 

SimonN

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It's interesting reading Julian's perception of the changes in the UK because it makes me reconsider my view of what happened in terms of revolution vs evolution. Lottery money arrived for the 2000 cycle, so really started to be felt in 1997. Rod Carr had been the Olympic team manager having started as a coach in 1984 but was promoted to Racing Manager for the RYA that year (effectively the role now held by Ian Walker) and John Derbyshire went from being a coach to the Olympic manager. Later, John took over from Rod, Rod got promoted to CEO of the RYA and Sparky went from being a coach to Olympic manager. Rod, who had been Olympic manager for some time, was the architect of the big changes although I suspect he would say it was team work, pulling together the ideas of others in "the system", such as Jim Saltonstall. It was the same people, with long time team involvement, rather than out with the old and in with the new, and it seemed to me to be a logical progression of promotions - Rod was ready to move up from Olympic team manager, rather than the person who he was replacing needed to be pushed out.

Some of what Rod and his team did was truly revolutionary, but probably not in the way many would think. Yes, there was an understanding of better support, training and all of that, but to me, one of the biggest things besides "the system" was an extraordinary piece of work that looked at the statistical evidence for what made an Olympic medalist. At the time, the idea that you could come up with a formula that would reliably predict the changes of a medal in sailing was almost laughed at by some. Some of it might seem obvious now, but by way of example, it showed there was zero link between world ranking and winning a medal, which is why Team GBR have ignored world rankings and chasing world ranking points. I still hear "I can't believe they have missed that regatta/championship" when the evidence actually says that results at that event don't help you win an Olympic medal.

So even if you have the best training and best support, if you are selecting the wrong people, you won't win. Sometimes you might select the right person, but at the wrong time, giving them too much or too little time between selection and the Olympics. For me, the selection method has something like a 50% success rate. I might be mistaken on this, but I can only think of 2 occasions since 2000 that somebody has been selected outside of the guidelines and in each case, they did not perform at the games. I believe that as soon as you put human judgement into selection that overrides the statistics, you reduce the chances of success.

In short, from inside it didn't feel like a revolution but more like the ultimate evolution that was enabled by the lottery money. I can see that some of what went on would seem like a revolution, not least because of the results. But the important thing that Julian has made me reconsider is exactly what made the difference and what teams need to put in place, and it's a lot more than first meets the eye.

And going back to the topic, I have a vague recollection of a discussion with a US Olympian about the UK selection criteria and seem to remember than some of it could not be used in the USA because it would breach certain rights to equal opportunity to qualify (constitutional???). For instance, the system I knew made it easier for somebody who had been to the Olympics before to qualify than somebody who had not, and it goes on.

 

ojfd

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.... but to me, one of the biggest things besides "the system" was an extraordinary piece of work that looked at the statistical evidence for what made an Olympic medalist.
That's very interesting. Can you tell a bit more, if you can and if it's not national secret? ;) What kind of data did they use as an input?

Thanks!

 

Speed Merchant

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This is a great question.   Here was my personal experience, I raced an olympic class internationally and competed on the college circuit for a well resourced and deep college team:

A lot of it is money.  European, South American, Australian, etc. athletes are straight up funded very well.  They don't have to work and can get essentially paid to train and sail all the time.  In the US, unless you have a massive trust fund, begging your local yacht clubs for some moolah just won't cut what it takes to travel and compete consistently on the international circuit, where the best competition and most opportunities to accelerate your learning curve lie.  Its literally the difference between being a professional vs amateur athlete.  The gap is massive.    Even if you do have the resources to compete internationally for an extended period of time, good luck finding enough training partners in the US who have a similar fortune, and good training partners are essential at this level.  

The US college sailing situation is another issue.  Yes, college sailing is quite strong in the states and the opportunities to do just millions of starts, mark roundings, play millions of wind shifts, etc are unmatched in the world.  The tactics, strategic knowledge and competitive experience you get racing college is strong.  BUT, college sailing, because you largely use boats that are oversimplified and underpowered, does not wholly prepare you for international success, where the courses are huge and there is a premium on fitness and big course, big fleet skills.  The US college sailing circuit is a good start, but falls very short in terms of raw athleticism and big, open body water competition with waves and moderate, strong, or big winds.  In the states, maybe 75% of all dinghy racing takes place in less than 12 knots ( and I think this is generous).  Sailors in other countries, from a young age, compete in open water, with real waves and stronger winds.  So in the US, the most successful racers who get the most support from an early age tend to be lighter, less physically fit and are light air/flat water/closed water specialists.  So when these racers who have been prized since a young age get to the big stage, there are some athletic shortcomings, as well as shortcomings in open water skills/comfort/mindset, at least compared to other countries.   Sailing is a complex game, and the skills at the top of the world have been honed year after year from a young age.   In the states, we have bread a different type of competitive racer, compared to what the top nations in the world are doing.   

There is one other facet, and this is more anecdotal.  There is just a full-on killer instinct and 100% engaged commitment mindset with racers from the sailing superpowers.  The kids and athletes in their 20s and 30s are just committed to pushing their sailing skills 110%.  In the US, there are a lot of distractions for the youth, and the kids who grow up racing sailboats are more likely to reenter the socioeconomic class that their parents came from to afford sailing to begin with, as opposed to be what in the US we would consider a "sailing bum."  In Europe, Australia, etc., it is accepted more to have a lifestyle based around something that is not all about making money.  
Spot on gohawks - all three need to be addressed, and as Cayard said in the ABC news article - it's training 1) Training the expectations (killer mindset for success) of the sailor, parents, coaches, and supporters 2) Training in the right kind of boat in the right format  3) Training in the right locations, right regattas, trial partners, and right plan for growth and success.    As a former coach, we aren't starting soon enough (like hockey or soccer), and are therefore trying to cram too much in too fast, in the wrong boats, without really thinking about the end game.  

 

spankoka

Super Anarchist
That said, there is SOMETIMES a localized recruitment spike if success in a sport hits the news. For example, when the US won gold in Men's Curling,
Shuster winning gold at PyeongChang was truly a remarkable achievement. He was up against guys like Koe and Edin. I don't know what to say about sailing or curling here, except that bringing people into the club to play at the club level cannot be a bad thing-maybe some will make the step to the next level. Certainly, curling club everyman Shuster was not feared by elite curlers before he won a gold medal. 

 

enigmatically2

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If the yanks think they have problems now, imagine if Aus, NZ and Canada had not decided to go their own way but if they had been part of GB - we would be winning the overall medals table comfortably. 

 

estarzinger

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That's very interesting. Can you tell a bit more, if you can and if it's not national secret? ;) What kind of data did they use as an input?
There have been a lot of these sorts of studies.  Many of the results can be a bit squishy and hard to generalize since we are looking for unique individuals. Here is one of the latest ones:

champion.jpg

The finding that your selection should not laser focus on results is a pretty common finding - Note I said as much up thread:

It is not adequate to advance (only) those who are winning - even in a more raw physical sport (like bicycling) that is not adequate - there are other equally important qualities that screen future champions (work ethic, self awareness and honesty, competitive fire, the ability to recover from and learn from losses etc). This deep talent spotting is a coaching skill.  Highly attendended camps and large gathered racing events are pretty important to do this at all efficiently rather than going around and looking at kids by the ones and twos in low competitive environments.
Paul's message comes across as someone who does not believe in his heart that the mission is achievable, does not know how to make the breakthru in performance, and that he will accept being 'middle of the pack'. 

 
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Spoke to a guy last night who was on the US sailing team in years past and he told me there is only one reason why UK is winning and US is not and it is lottery funding. 

The money makes the UK program 100x more professional. 

Since they are getting paid there is an expectation of, and a commitment to, a professional approach to training and development. 

The money also makes it more desirable to be a part of and creates a culture that supports success.

The US ends up a bunch of rich kids sailing recreationally vs the UK which are more like pro athletes.

 
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