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Mike Milner: Pushing a strategic plan

Published on January 22nd, 2020

Mike Milner

The 2020 Olympic quad was well underway when Mike Milner was appointed in April 2018 as Sail Canada’s new High Performance director. In advance of the 2020 World Cup Series Miami, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck sits down with Mike for an update.

I suspect that first year was a rush to get rolling, but now that you’ve caught your breath, tell me about this past year.

Well, we’re continuing on with our Sail Canada strategic plan. We’re really focused on making sailors better younger, so we’ve put a lot of emphasis and investment into that this year. And we’re very fortunate with our partners that we’ve had the increases in funding to continue to support our elite athletes. So those are the big things this year that we’ve focused on.

There’s no quick fixes, particularly when seeking to advance the next generation.

One of the things I think we did a very good job at was providing the right direction to allow sailors to succeed, and one of those is giving sailors the advice on their physical metrics and what type of boat they should be sailing. We emphasized that we don’t want someone to be the best Laser sailor; we want them to be the best sailor.

So, we’ve spent a lot of emphasis working with our veterans and new athletes on trying to get into the right boat for them. And that’s been a challenge, but we’re focused on getting sailors into the right boats and actually making investments in them if they do that.

Or if a person is a great Laser sailor, that doesn’t mean they’re limited to just the Laser.

Exactly, but while you can coach certain things, you can’t coach size, so we’re seeking to set these sailors up so they understand where their pathway starts on a performance level and trying to get them to start earlier rather than what we’ve seen in the past where they wait until age 18 to make a decision on where they want to go.

The other area we’ve had a lot of success this year is in how our Canadian sailing veterans are coming back and getting in the boats and competing against our younger athletes. Thanks to past Olympians like Luke Ramsay, Hunter Lowden, and Nikola Girke, they’re here; they’re back in the boats, and they’re providing advice and mentorships to our younger sailors and being role models.

And unlike in 2016 when Canada advanced a smaller team to the Rio Olympics, the plan for 2020 is to include representatives in every event the country has qualified for.

Right, and that was part of the strategic plan in how we want people to be sailing. In 2016 the country had a more stringent qualifying criteria than what was created by World Sailing for entrance into the event, but now it’s about where we are as a country in our stage of development, and recognizing how we want to build depth in our fleets, and we want to pass on institutional knowledge. So, having these veterans here is helping that, and hopefully, it’s going to push our system along for 2024.

How did it transpire to bring back the veterans?

Everyone always has that dream to come back, but it was important to provide the environment and understanding, not only what their goals are, but what my goals are for our veterans.

With Luke (2012-470, 2016-Nacra 17), Hunter (2012-49er), Nikola (2004-470, 2008-RS:X, 2012-RS:X, 2016-Nacra 17), I’ve been very fortunate that our veterans have understood what leadership means, and I think they’re all excited to lead and mentor our younger athletes as they can.

So far, they’ve all been fantastic at it. Anytime there’s a young sailor, I forward an email to them. I can tell an athlete anything, but when it comes from these veterans that have been there, it just makes all the difference in the world.

While ten Olympic events create tremendous opportunity for the athletes, managing that size of program can be a load for a country. How does Canada approach it?

It was an element of the Sail Canada strategic decision to support six events – Men’s Laser, Women’s Laser Radial, Men’s Finn, Men’s 49er, Women’s 49er FX, and one other event depending on the year at the time and the quad. While we have funding that would still go to the other four classes, our resources are put into coaching, and that’s where our focus is.

After the 2020 Olympics, we will review the strategic plan to see if that’s how we want to continue on. That’s going to be a very interesting discussion which will be held at the end of 2020 in our debrief.

For Tokyo 2020, what events has Canada qualified for and what remains on the table?

We’ve qualified for the Finn event and Tom Ramshaw will be nominated to the Olympic team. So that’s number one, but we’ve also qualified in the Laser Radial, 49er, and 49erFX. What remains is whether we will qualify in the Men’s 470 and Women’s RS:X which is to be decided during the final North American opportunity at 2020 World Cup Series Miami, but we are confident that will occur.

Miami is also our final chance to qualify in the Men’s Laser, but there are a number of other countries seeking the bid, so while I am confident in our guys, that class will be a fight. We’re looking forward to seeing our young guys perform, and I’m really happy to have 13 Canadians down here training/competing at Miami, many of which will be putting in an Olympic effort for 2020 and 2024. Someone told me it’s about a quarter of the fleet, so that’s pleasing to be building depth in those fleets.

Beyond the Finn, what completes the athlete selection for Canada?

For the Men’s 470, Miami is not only the country qualifier, but our first Olympic trials, and then for the majority of the rest of the fleets that have qualified, selection will be based on their Class World Championship and the Princess Sofia Regatta in Spain.

Excellent… good luck!

Thanks, we’ve got a great group of athletes now and I am pleased with the direction we’re going.

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