Such is Life in Olympic Selection

Published on June 8th, 2016

There are ten sailing events to be held at the 2016 Olympic Games, but not every country will put forth a complete team. Sailors may seek nomination, but countries may choose to focus their resources on only the most promising prospects.

New Zealand, which won medals at the 2012 Games in the Women’s 470 (Gold) and Men’s 49er (Silver), is one of those countries. They chose not to put forth representatives in the Laser Radial, Men’s RS:X and Women’s RS:X events. Such is life in Olympic selection.

When countries uses a transparent system based only on performance in specific events, such as the USA, the risk is that projected performance at the Games is not given sufficient consideration, or that the selected sailor(s) has no chance of medaling. But at least it avoids the drama that’s occurring in New Zealand.

Here is a statement released June 9, 2016 from Yachting New Zealand regarding their Olympic selection:

In May Yachting New Zealand announced collectively with the New Zealand Olympic Committee, that a team of 12 sailors had been selected to represent New Zealand in seven events at Rio 2016.

Subsequently, two athlete appeals were lodged with the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand and both have now been resolved.

Yachting New Zealand acknowledges the importance of an objective, bias-free, selection process and is pleased that our selection decision has been confirmed by the Sports Tribunal. A prompt resolution was important for all parties, including the travelling team and supporters.

“We are excited about the prospects for the seven classes going to Rio 2016,”says David Abercrombie, Yachting New Zealand Chief Executive. “Our selections are on a performance based approach which is producing medals – New Zealand has collected more than 20 podium finishes each year in 2014 and 2015 across the Sailing World Cup, Eurosaf Regattas, World Championships and Rio Test Event regattas.”

“We are reviewing the full report by Sir Bruce Robertson (Chairman of the New Zealand Sports Disputes Tribunal) and will take on board all of his comments. We are always looking for improvement especially with specific aspects of our communication with athletes.”

The ultimate goal of our High Performance Programme and the NZL Sailing Team is to win Olympic medals at Rio 2016, and Tokyo 2020 beyond that. This goal aligns with the goal of High Performance Sport New Zealand, our partner providing substantial funding for our programme.

Yachting New Zealand has finite resources to run our High Performance Programme as we look to maintain our position as a multi-medal winning sport. High Performance Sport New Zealand’s support of yachting is generous but Yachting New Zealand cannot fund all Olympic aspirants to campaign over the full four year cycle.

No sailing campaign is fully funded by Yachting New Zealand and all our athletes must commit to part funding their own campaigns.

“Preparing athletes for the Olympic Games is a direct cost to Yachting New Zealand, we are grateful for the support we receive from High Performance Sport New Zealand and we are fiscally responsible,” says Abercrombie.

“We believe high expectations drive high performance and world-class results,” says Abercrombie.

We use performance tracking data to prioritise and direct resources into campaigns that can demonstrate they are on track to win Olympic medals.

Abercrombie says, “Yacht racing can’t be judged on time and distance. Many factors influence a result. This is why we use statistical analysis as an objective part of our selection process. We have tracked the results of 93 Olympic sailing medallists across 651 pinnacle events over three Olympiads in every class and from this experience we have a very firm view on exactly what people have to achieve in order to medal. Yachting New Zealand supports those athletes who are on track and in form.”

Our High Performance Department works closely with each of the NZL Sailing Team athletes to agree personalised campaign plans, including performance criteria and pinnacle regattas. Athletes are required to demonstrate commitment and to follow their agreed campaign plan.

Yachting New Zealand Olympic Selection Policy is not made public, but is made available to actively campaigning sailors early in the four-year cycle providing plenty of opportunity for athletes to request clarification on any part of the selection criteria if they require it.

Yachting New Zealand supports all classes in the initial two years of the Olympic cycle with the aim of securing national Olympic qualification. This provides athletes a period of time to post significant results to justify further investment in the second half of the cycle, and we work closely with athletes to agree and regularly review performance targets, regatta plans, coaching and training programmes.

From that point in the cycle, campaign funding and support becomes more results focused so that budgetary constraints can be met.

“Some countries target a few athletes or classes and support these but we feel there is a risk to the sport in taking this approach,” explains Abercrombie. “We provide all classes with good support in the first two years to help them perform and as the Olympics approach we target those who have demonstrated that they are medal capable.”

“Athletes who consistently obtain top results are more likely to medal. Notwithstanding that they will have the occasional glitches but will focus on pinnacle events and use other events to test gear and develop skills.”

Sustainability and pathway development is a critical part of Yachting New Zealand’s High Performance Programme. Where possible we build depth through training partners that will provide back up and sustainable performance beyond the forthcoming Olympic Games.

We have a great team – we have a diverse and collaborative group of coaches and advisors who are committed to the long-term development of our athletes. We have a strong partnership with High Performance Sport New Zealand and we invest in IP and technology which helps developing athletes such as the Aon Fast Track Squad which supports talented and up and coming athletes into world class and Olympic competition.

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