top (and bottom) of the food chain

It doesn’t matter what metric one applies or over how wide a time scale, it has to be said that THE Olympic sailing nation is Great Britain, yet the accolades the UK media pour on the British Olympic sailors are weak to say the least. It seems that to catch the eye of the British press you have to sail ’round the world on your own to get onto the front page. (not here though, apparently – ed.)

Over the entire Olympic history Team GBR under various names tops the Olympic Sailing Medal Table with, now, 33 Gold Medals and a total of 68 medals in all. In the second slot is the USA with 19.

It is noticeable however that over the last 4 Olympic Regattas Team USA has only won three medals, one of each color, and the Beijing Gold Medalist, AnnaTunnicliffe, was actually born in Doncaster, England.

In Tokyo, the GBR performance wasn’t just notable for medalling in 50% of the classes but it also featured the very first Medal Race that didn’t have a GBR competitor. 40 Medal races so far and only one without a British sailor being featured. It is that strength in depth that ultimately brings Olympic success in ANY sport.

That ‘system’ starts in Great Britain with the RYA’s Regional Youth Squads leading up through various levels to ultimately the Olympic squad and then the team. One thing that helped with Tokyo was that the team was selected and announced for 2020 was then told it would be unaltered for 2021 allowing the sailors to concentrate on getting better rather than worrying if there were going to be able to back their bags for Japan rather than watch someone else take their place.

The talent pool in the UK is deep and wide. I know one young female sailor who had the offer to be part of an Olympic campaign but who turned it down because it wasn’t ‘her kind of sailing’. She went on to compete at several (mixed) worlds including part of a runner up team in a fleet of 120 boats (roughly 3 times the largest Olympic fleet) along with top female helm at National and Worlds level and outright win at state level. 

That strength in depth is what builds a sport, whatever it is, wherever it is.

Australia is another nation that is getting it right in some classes, both with the sailors who come into those classes and the coaching they receive. In fact over the last 4 Olympics Australia has picked up 8 Olympic Golds, just two behind GBR. The difference being their medal total is 13 compared to GBR’s being 19 but they are pushing.

It is a different story in the USA where, while being placed second in the all-time list of Gold Medals, the team have only won 3 Gold in total in the last six (6) Games with the last Gold being in 2008 with only a single Bronze since then.

Of course, I am not an American and there may be others with a better handle on this than I have, but I wonder just when American Collegiate Sailing started to become such a big thing. (he’s right, he’s not an American. – ed)

Most Olympic hopefuls, particularly in the early days of their hopes, are parent-funded. In the USA there is also the ‘specter’ of an expensive student ‘career’ looming.

Collegiate Sailing gives gifted young sailors the opportunity of a sailing scholarship at many universities so introducing financial competition to the double whammy of an Olympic shot AND an education to pay for.

The alternative of using your sailing ability in a different way, ignore the Olympics, and get a free education into the bargain – tough call.

As I say, I may be wrong but something has derailed the traditional USA achievement level in Olympic Sailing, perhaps that is one of the first things Paul Cayard will have to explore when trying to get the US back on track.

– SS.