Youth Training Key to Olympic Success

Published on April 18th, 2016

After the US Sailing Team failed to claim a medal at the 2012 Olympics, a lot of work has occurred to improve the program. But infrastructure and funding will only get you so far. It still takes 40 weeks to make a child and 20 years to train it. This is not a quick fix situation.

For the US to get back on the Olympic podium, youth training had to improve. This is the genesis for the US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program (ODP), which was launched in January 2015 to fast track the progression of the most promising youth sailing talent in the US. Here is an update on the program…


Skimming across the water at breakneck speed, sailing a modern skiff like the 29er can appear to be an aquatic high-wire act, where one false move can lead to complete disaster. But looks can be deceiving. These boats are made to go fast and—as is the case with a bicycle—speed creates stability. Down speed, it’s another story.

“The 29er is difficult to start and maneuver at slow speeds because of how hard it is to balance,” says top junior sailor Ian MacDiarmid of Delray Beach, Fla. “The most important aspect to starting in the 29er is being able to double tack and be able to accelerate from behind the line early.”

Starting, and the required slow-speed maneuvering and precise acceleration required to get a front-row position off the start line, were a focal point of U.S. Sailing’s Olympic Development Camp in Miami, April 8 to 10. A top-flight coaching staff, including a handful of Olympic veterans and two gold medalists, worked with 63 young sailors in four classes (29er, Laser Radial, International 420, and RS:X) over the three-day camp, which was held out of the Miami Yacht Club.

unnamed“Everybody was in the right mindset and on the same page,” says Leandro Spina, US Sailing’s Youth Development Director. “The sailors and the coaches came prepared for the camp. One of the highlights was coaches sharing with each other and the sailors engaging in long conversations. The morning briefings lasted 90 minutes when they were supposed to be 35 to 40 minutes because the sailors were in the right mindset and really focused. They started breaking the habit of only listening to the coaches; they were asking questions and sharing.”

This interaction between talented young sailors and respected veteran coaches with America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and Olympic pedigrees is a central tenet of the Olympic Development Program. And in only its second year, the program continues to evolve and improve.

“The coaching, competition and chalk talks get better with every camp,” says MacDiarmid. “Those three things are what set ODP camps apart from any other training I have done.”

For Cate Mollerus, of Larchmont, N.Y., the Miami camp was her first opportunity to sail with a new teammate. Developing the necessary cohesion to sail the 29er while also trying to refine technique is a challenge, especially when the competition is some of the best young sailors in the country. But Mollerus and her partner embraced the opportunity.

unnamed(1)“I think that we made incredible gains in our stability and confidence in the boat,” she says. “Being held to the expectation of high level racing from the beginning forced us to learn quickly and leave any uncertainty in our ability as sailors at the dock. We did our fair share of swimming but throughout the weekend we were working out how to keep the boat going fast at all times and get comfortable enough to focus on racing strategy and fine tuning our skills.”

Both MacDiarmid and Mollerus have set their sights on the U.S. 29er Nationals in Newport, R.I., in June and then the class’s world championships in the Netherlands in late July. Those two events will play a large role in determining which teams from the United States, one per gender, will get the coveted berths at the 2016 World Sailing Youth World Championships.

Report by Stuart Streuli.

For more information on the ODP: www.ussailing.org/olympics.
For questions regarding the ODP, contact Molly Vandemoer, Program Manager.

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