By Dean M. Brenner
Chairman, US Olympic Sailing Program
November 19, 2009 -- Part of my job as Chairman is to check in directly with our coaches and athletes several times per year so I can see with my own eyes and listen with my own ears what’s really going on. In September, I joined our our athletes in Weymouth, England, where they competed at Sail for Gold, the seventh and final stop on the inaugural ISAF Sailing World Cup Tour. There are many major events each year for our athletes, but considering that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Regattas will be held at this venue, this was an important stop for us.
We rolled out all of our major resources for this event: a full coaching staff, a team meteorologist, a physical therapist, and all four of our senior staff directors. We sent some 35 American athletes and a total team of more than 50 people for a week-long training camp followed by a week-long regatta.
And while we there, it occurred to me yet again how important it is for us to be at these events in such a major way. Success in sailing is like success in almost every other competitive venture. Repetition is the secret of success, and this is particularly true in sailing. Even though the Games are still about three years away, there is a wealth of information about Weymouth, England that is available and we need to be gathering everything we can, right now.
On the water, we’re trying to learn the trends of the wind and the water in Weymouth. Every location has its own trends and peculiarities, and sailing is a sport of variables. The more we know about those variables the more prepared we will be.
Off the water, we also have work to do. We want our athletes to feel comfortable in the surroundings. We want to sort out the housing we want, where to buy the food we like and identify a favorite morning coffee shop. We want to know how the traffic works in Weymouth so we aren’t late to the boat park on race days. We want to eliminate as many unknowns as possible.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are full of distractions that don’t exist at any regatta in the four-year Games cycle. There is more media, more people, more security, more activity than at any other competition. So, the more comfortable we are in our surroundings when those new distractions start to pop up, the more normal it will all feel for our athletes.
And finally, I was struck this past week by how together our team is becoming. As I looked at our team in action, I saw athletes sharing information, coaching each other, cooperating jointly with our coaching staff. We held a morning weather briefing at our US Team Shed, and everyone was there every day at 8:30am, talking about the weather from the day before and the forecast for that day. I stood in the back each day, watching and listening, observing the progress within our Program. And I loved what I saw and heard.
We are in the midst of dramatic cultural shirt within the US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program. We are creating a more professional, more cohesive culture of team partnership. We are creating a team of athletes with common goals, working together towards success in 2012. And a big step in that cultural transformation occurred at Sail for Gold in Weymouth, England.