With the Weymouth Olympic Regatta now more than three months behind us, and a deep-dive evaluation of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Program complete, we’re focused on a strategy designed to return U.S. sailors to the podium. Two complementary missions will get us there: the first, Rio 2016, is a mission that centers on developing a culture of performance excellence; the second, Vision 2024, is a long-term strategy designed to reshape the Olympic pathway and achieve sustainable performance.
Internal and independent reviews of U.S. Olympic Sailing have drawn many of the same conclusions: the United States has clear strengths to build on and areas of weakness we must rebuild. Program positives include the level of funding supporting U.S. sailors, which reached an all-time high last quadrennium; the fact that members of US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider now regularly race in the competitive European environment; and the successful establishment of a team culture.
The U.S. team’s failure to reach the podium at the Olympic Regatta highlighted a number of areas of needed change on the performance side of our program. We need, for example, to build a performance edge across a wide range of sailing conditions—plain and simple. We also need to develop custom strategies based on the individual needs of sailors and their classes. Step one is guiding US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider on a training path that is flexible yet unwavering in its commitment to generating technical, technique and tactical advantages.
Specifics of our 2013-16 plan include the following priorities: surround sailors with the highest level of coaching expertise available; identify critical success factors according to individual sailors and classes; implement a Performance Development Program to develop sailors, boats (speed!) and technical advantages; and turn domestic training into a strength.
One thing is clear: we have sailing talent in the United States, though few follow the Olympic path. To build our Olympic talent base, our youth development plan is set on “getting ‘em earlier and keeping ‘em longer.” Money is part of the answer to this, funding high-level coaching and racing opportunities for our emerging talent. As important as money, though, is the collaboration across all of sailing in the United States. We need to form a clear Olympic path and expose more young sailors to high-performance dinghies. Many specific actions are in the works, including aligning championship youth sailing equipment with Olympic-style high-performance boats and making college sailing part of the long-term solution. We understand Olympic sailing isn’t every young sailor’s cup of tea. But for those with “five-ring fever,” we’re looking to guide them on a clear path.
It’s important to note that the U.S. has history on its side. Some of the top international sailing programs, including Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand, have been quick to rebound from Olympic flameouts similar to the U.S. performance in Weymouth. The Aussies (four medals in Weymouth), Dutch (three) and Kiwis (two) came up empty in Athens in 2004. We believe we have the right formula of short- and long-term goals to return the U.S. to Olympic success and to sustain podium results for years to come.
Photo by Daniel Forster/PPL