The Man Behind The Medal
Published on September 2nd, 2015
When the US Sailing Team incurred a painful medal drought at the 2012 Olympic Games, significant effort has been exerted to right the ship. But talking about ‘heightened commitment’ and ‘making progress’ only gets you so far. At some point you need measurable improvement. You need a win.
The US Team got that win when Women’s 470 athletes Annie Haeger (East Troy, Wisc.) and Briana Provancha (San Diego, Calif.) claimed the gold medal at the Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta on August 15-22, the final test event at the venue for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Following the event, Annie and Briana gave a lot of credit to their coach, Dave Ullman. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with Dave for an update…
First off, tell us about your era in the 470.
I sailed in the 470 class from 1972 to 1986. For me the highlights of my time in the class are my three World Championship titles (1977, 1978, and 1980), helping coach Olympic teams to medals in 1988, 1992 and 2000 (either as a private coach and as a part of the U.S. Sailing team), and my win at the South American 470 Championships in the late 1970s.
Explain your current role with the U.S. Team.
My role on the U.S. Sailing Team is as the coach for the U.S. Olympic Women’s 470 Team. In April of 2014, Charlie McKee (the U.S. Sailing High Performance Director) asked me to coach the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Hyeres, France to help give the team a big-picture perspective for the event and beyond. The women’s 470 program was still new and young and it was felt that my experience could bring some value. The team sailed to a Bronze medal at the event and I, Annie, and Brianna clicked. We’ve been working together since.
Your achievements in the class are pre-internet. What did Annie and Brianna know about them?
My guess would be not much aside from my World Championships; it’s not something we spend time talking about. They do see me chatting and swapping old sailing stories with the other 470 coaches who sailed in the class at the same time as me, so perhaps they’ve gleaned something from that.
What was your immediate observation of the class when you began your current role?
I was surprised to see that so little had changed since I had sailed in the class. Technique had changed slightly, mostly due to the introduction of the Kinetics Flag (allowing competitors to use kinetics in over 8 knots of breeze), but that’s about it.
Following their medal in Hyeres, Annie and Briana were up and down in 2014, but 2015 has been trending up. How important was winning in Rio?
The win was very important. It was an indicator that we are in the elite group, not just outside of it. With very hard work and added efficiency in the program we can get there. Compared to 2014 when it felt like it was just a hope to get to where we are now.
What has been your focus since working with Annie and Briana?
When we started, they were just learning the ropes of international sailing, but they were already sailing the boat fast, and had a complete and total commitment to winning. So since then we’ve focused on how to sail in a world class environment. Of course there is still a lot to work on, but there is also still a lot of time left.