2012: A Historic Olympic Defeat

Never has a U.S. sailing team gone into an Olympics with higher hopes. Never have those hopes been dashed so completely as they were in Weymouth, England.
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Never has a U.S. sailing team gone into an Olympics with higher hopes. Never have those hopes been dashed so completely as they were in Weymouth, England.

The historic failure—the team failed to take home a single medal for the first time since the 1936 Olympics in Berlin—is compounded by that fact that this was supposed to be the Olympiad where the team turned things around. (To read about the teams that did succeed, click here.)

Ever since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where the United States won nine medals, the U.S. team has struggled, having to make do with a smattering of medals here and there. Even those medals, especially golds, seemed to come only as a result of some kind of super-human effort: who can ever forget Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl’s incredible win in the final race of the Star regatta in Sydney, Australia, to bring home the United States’ only gold medal in 2000? (The United States still ended up fourth in the medal count that year, behind Great Britain, Australia and Austria.)

This time, though, it was supposed to be different. The U.S. Sailing team, under the leadership of Soling class veteran Dean Brenner was supposed to be better than ever: with better funding, better access to Olympic training facilities, better cohesion and a better selection process, which required team members to prevail in the crucible of international competition in order to win their Olympic berths. There were also veteran sailors like Beijing silver medal Finn sailor Zach Railey and gold-medal Laser Radial sailor Anna Tunnicliffe, serving as a kind of ace in the hole.

But it was all for naught. Collectively, the U.S. team didn’t even come close. Of the 10 sailing events, U.S. sailors only reached the medal rounds in three. Among those who didn’t make it were Railey, who finished 12 in the 24-boat Finn fleet, and Anna Tunnicliffe, Debbie Capozzi and Molly Vandemoer who ended up fifth overall after being knocked out by a strong Finnish team in the match-racing event.

“I’ll admit that I just didn’t see this one coming,” Brenner said afterward, admitting he was “shocked” at the results. “We came into these Games thinking we could legitimately compete for a medal in several events, and in a few others, we felt we had some version of a chance, if things fell our way. Never in my wildest dreams did I think everything would fall our way, and that we would win five medals or more. But it was equally unexpected that we would strike out across the board, and come home with zero.”

Thus far, there has been no word from Brenner or anybody else at the Olympic sailing team on what went wrong or what, in concrete terms, might be done to improve things moving forward. However, US Sailing president Gary Jobson has been reported as saying that the team seemed to simply lack the boatspeed to keep up those sailors who ended up on the podium. Outgoing SAIL publisher Josh Adams, who is taking up the reigns from Brenner as chairman of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee said he is also avoiding making any public statements at this point, although he says he and Brenner have been discussing the situation on a daily basis.

 “We’re going to be asked the same question over and over for the next couple of months: why and how did this happen?” Brenner said. “Some will be asking because they are proud of our team and they want to see this program succeed. Others will be asking because they love to lob criticism from the sideline, and love to comment on failure.”

On thing that does look likely is that many of the changes that have been implemented during Brenner’s tenure will likely stand. “A lot of things were done well, and this team did a lot of things really well. We made a lot of progress this quad and these results don’t change that, and that progress is quantifiable in many ways,” Brenner said. “The other thing to keep in mind is the sailors themselves aren’t satisfied, and I think you’ll see a lot of them back for 2016. We’re going to take a really hard look in the mirror as a program, staff and athletes, and anyone who isn’t pleased with our performance should realize that neither are we, neither are the 16 athletes who were here. They’re going to take a look in the mirror and figure out what they can do better, whether they come back or not.”

How U.S. Sailors finished in the 2012 Olympics:

29th, Laser, Rob Crane (Darien, CT)

20th, Women’s RS:X Windsurfing, Farrah Hall (Annapolis, MD)

22nd, RS:X Windsurfing, Bob Willis (Chicago)

7th, Star, Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih (Miami, FL)

8th, Laser Radial, Paige Railey (Clearwater, FL)

15th, 49er, Erik Storck (Huntington, NY) and Trevor Moore (North Pomfret, VT)

14th, Men’s 470, Stuart McNay (Newton, MA) and Graham Biehl (San Diego, CA)

9th, Women’s 470, Amanda Clark (Shelter Island, NY) and Sarah Lihan (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

5th, Women’s Match Racing, Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, FL), Molly Vandemoer (Stanford, CA) and Debbie Capozzi (Bayport, NY)

For complete 2012 Olympics sailing results, click here

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