Turning Around the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team

U.S. Olympic Sailing Team managing director Josh Adams on the future of his squad
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U.S. Olympic Sailing Team managing director Josh Adams on the future of his squad.

Josh Adams, former publisher of SAIL, left the magazine world following the London 2012 Olympics to take the helm as managing director of U.S. Olympic Sailing at US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider. Adams inherited a team that failed to win a single Olympic sailing medal in Weymouth—the first shutout suffered by an American team since 1936. (The one bright spot was a silver for Paralympians Jen French and JP Creignou in the SKUD-18 class.) Since then, he has been working hard to correct America’s Olympic course.

I caught up with Adams following the Santander 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championships—an international regatta that determines half of the country berths for the Rio 2016 Olympics—to get his take on the team’s preparations.

How have you restructured the team?

We’ve focused on technical development, expanding our training effort and building the base of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Some aspects were in place, but others have been expanded. We’ve been getting more sailors involved to build depth in the classes. But we need to train and put in the hours. We’ve achieved a good balance between international [regattas] and domestic [training].


What are your team goals for 2014 and 2015?

We built our training to peak at Santander. We wanted at least four top-10 finishes, and we achieved that. We also wanted to qualify the country for Rio, and we qualified in half the classes. Our 2014 goal was to have a full fleet of Olympic boats in Rio, to set up a training center and to get a handle on the complicated currents and winds. This is now in place for the duration. Thanks to a generous donation, the team purchased an entire fleet of Olympic-class boats…and we formed a training-center partnership with a local venue.

We also have an ongoing weather-research project...so that we can provide the team with the right amount of information for every single tide and wind cycle.

Is this technology an advantage?

Most of this technology is available to other teams, but we think our advantage will be how we process and present the data.

Where does the team stand, fundraising-wise?

We view ourselves as a mid-sized team going against bigger, better-funded teams. We’re one of only a few teams that doesn’t have access to government funding—our funding comes from private sources. To counter this we’ve made great strides in sponsorship and private fundraising. We won’t use budget as an excuse, but we’re always looking for more support.

Have Americans been participating in more international regattas since London?

Our first priority is to spend time in the boat, training and racing. This is fundamental! Our second priority is international competition, as the sailors need to check in with their competition and see where they stand.

We don’t subscribe to long spells in Europe. Domestic training can accomplish a lot.

How much of your attention is currently focused on 2016, vs. 2020?

From the beginning, we’ve been focusing on two complementary courses, with Rio as our primary goal. It’s essential that we build up the talent pipeline. This happens in two phases: making young sailors aware of the Olympic pathways, and getting them onto the right equipment. We need to balance the long- and short-term goals.

What steps have you taken to protect the sailors from Rio’s dirty water?

We responded by doing our own research and water testing, as we wanted to know about the environment that our sailors will be racing in. The water is safe, and the sailing will be fine. That said, we encourage all efforts to clean up the water! 

Photos courtesy of US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider/Mick Anderson

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