Assessing Olympic future for US Team
Published on January 29th, 2018
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
All 10 Olympic events were competing at 2018 World Cup Series Miami on January 23-28, attracting 543 sailors from 50 nations to get a measure of progress toward their goal of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
That’s 30 medals, which in the end were divided up between 18 nations. As the host, USA was the only North American country to get a medal. But just one medal. And that was with home field advantage, and in some classes, a less than deep field.
So what’s the Olympic future for the US Sailing Team?
For full disclosure, I am a San Diego Padres fan, the perennial cellar dweller of Major League Baseball. But they have my interest because I believe in the new ownership’s commitment to build a strong and sustainable team. That’s where I am with the US Sailing Team too.
The team had been on the slide for a while, but they’d always win Olympic medals, so it took getting shut out at the London 2012 Games before people started smelling the coffee. That was the good news. The bad news is that there’s no quick fix to a problem that was over 30 years in the making.
Youth development was the key, but for any kid learning to sail then, that meant they may be ready by Paris 2024. If those currently in the pipeline consistently moved from Rio 2016 to Tokyo 2020, there was the prospect of progress. But that didn’t happen.
With no depth, sailors in three of the four women’s events tapped out after the Rio Games, so those events are starting from scratch. In the male events, the USA is consistently at world level in only two of them, close in one of them, and in rebuild in two others. The mixed event teams are all new.
Not the model of strength, so the future is dependent on young sailors now sacrificing their teen years for a chance to stand on the podium.
This doesn’t mean that Tokyo 2020 will be a stink bomb, as the questionable Miami results had some asterisks. There were rookies, crew substitutes, and the event saw very light winds at the start and then shifted quickly to very strong winds. In those conditions, all warts were exposed.
Here’s the breakdown:
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Stuart McNay won this event for the past two years and finished fourth at Rio 2016. But with his teammate Dave Hughes injured, Stu pulled his previous crew Graham Biehl out of retirement to finish 7th. Dave will be back for the upcoming European schedule.
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
After two medal contending teams tapped out after Rio 2016, this event is in full rebuild. The 24th place finish by Atlantic and Nora Brugman says it all, though there must be optimism when the pipeline has Carmen and Emma Cowles who had dominated the girl’s doublehanded event at the 2017 Youth Sailing World Championships.
Heavyweight Men’s One Person Dinghy – Finn
Caleb Paine was the hero in Rio 2016, overcoming adversity to sail an epic final race to claim bronze. After taking a break, this was his first meaningful event and he finished second. He will be counted on in Tokyo.
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Charlie Buckingham was 2-time College Sailor of the Year (2009, 11) and has been the top US Laser sailor since 2012, but is too often on the outside looking in. He was 11th in Rio 2016 and 12th in Miami, so this is a vital quad for Charlie to take serious steps to the podium.
Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
Paige Railey has won about every trophy and award except for an Olympic medal, finishing 8th in 2012 and 10th in 2016. She has been dealing with illness since Rio, with Miami her first regatta back in the boat. Given her rust and poor conditioning, a 13th was pretty good, though for Tokyo she must get past 2017 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Erika Reineke.
Men’s Skiff – 49er
With the USA finishing 19th out of 20 at Rio 2016, and that team tapping out, this is another rebuild program. Judge Ryan is the most seasoned skipper, but with crew Hans Henken injured, Ryan teamed with British star crew Alain Sign in Miami to finish 9th, a decent result though in a field without any of the Rio medalists. The USA does have a lot of new teams in the event with good resumes, but the 49er is no easy hill to climb.
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
As a new team a year ago, Stephanie Roble and Margaret Shea looked like green fleeters as they began training, so finishing 8th in Miami and winning the medal race is measurable progress. But none of the Rio medalists were in Miami, so this wasn’t the best test. Paris Henken, who finished 10th in Rio, used Miami to trial a new partnership with 2008 gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias, finishing 13th despite a DNF after breaking a mast.
Men’s Windsurfer – RS:X
The good news is Pedro Pascual, who was the Rio 2016 representative, has his eyes on Tokyo 2020. The bad news is he got 35th out of 48 in Miami.
Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Farrah Hall has been a tireless competitor in the class but struggles to sniff mid fleet. After Rio 2016 representative Marion Lepert tapped out, this event will continue to suffer for the USA until grassroots activity becomes more widespread and encouragement improves at the youth level.
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
This is the only event where the USA has some quality depth, with two teams – Ravi Parent/ Christina Persson and Bora Gulari/ Helena Scutt – finishing in the top ten while sailing their first big regatta. Bora and Helena competed in Rio 2016, albeit with different teammates, so there may “gold in them thar hills.”
Sunday (Jan 28) Medal Races – 470, Finn, Laser, Laser Radial
The World Cup Series is an annual circuit of Olympic sailing for elite and professional sailors, and a key touchpoint for fans and media to connect to the sport of sailing and develop support for athletes on their road to Tokyo 2020 and beyond. Over 2,000 of the world’s leading sailors, representing 75 nations, have competed in the World Cup Series since its inception in 2008.
2017/2018 World Cup Series
October 17-22, 2017 – World Cup Series #1 – Gamagori, Japan
January 21-28, 2018 – World Cup Series #2 – Miami, USA
April 22-29, 2018 – World Cup Series #3 – Hyères, France
June 3-10, 2018 – World Cup Series Final – Marseille, France