Tokyo 2020: Building a culture to succeed

Published on February 19th, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
There are two great examples of US Olympic achievement when like-minded teams came together to advance the nation’s prospects. This was during the Los Angeles 1984 quad for the Flying Dutchman and the Sydney 2000 quad for the 49er. Both efforts resulted in medals.

While these were structured efforts, the Olympic reign of sailmaker Mark Reynolds, in which he won medals at three consecutive games, was similar. Unlike the FD and 49er, the Star Class had significant history and depth in the USA, and Reynolds was pushed by peers and competing brands to excel.

When I competed in the Tornado for Barcelona 1992, there were two US groups of team training. 1984 Olympic medalist Randy Smyth led one camp in Florida while 1988 Olympian Pete Melvin and Pease/Jay Glaser led another squad in California. Smyth went on to win silver in 1992, while one of his early training partners, John Lovell, would claim silver in 2004.

But team training has been lacking in the USA, partly due to expansive geography and thin fleets, though also due to a failed vision of how to excel. The stress and expense of campaigns was conflicted with the culture of cooperation needed to work with people that were both ally and opposition.

While Malcolm Page was the Chief of U.S. Olympic Sailing during the 2020 quad, the Australian double gold medalist would counsel me on how he was trying to build back that culture, minimizing the reliance on international training and instead leveraging the strengths within the country.

It was a big ask, and no magic wand would get it down, but there are examples of change worth noting. Paige Railey and Erika Reineke found common ground in the Laser Radial, but the most striking progress was within the Men’s 49er and Mixed Nacra 17 groups.

While neither of these two groups have medal favorites for Tokyo 2020, their progress together has been massive. A key team within the Nacra 17 group was Sarah Newberry and David Liebenberg, and while they lost out to teammates Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis for Tokyo 2020, Sarah shares her enthusiasm for the program:


A 14th at the 2020 World Championship, and as the top American team, we came close to making the medal race, though left a few too many points on the table in the last two races to lock it in. But we sailed the 2020 World Championship event with enough consistency that we can say how top ten was within arm’s reach.

While we are very disappointed to not be your 2020 Olympic Team, we are SO proud of what we accomplished this quadrennium. Two years of sailing together and we have transformed from a top 25 team to a top 15 team in the world. We get to race with some of the fiercest competitors around, in a class helping to change the landscape of our sport by facilitating a gender equal platform for athletes.

As people, we have grown beyond our greatest dreams. I am not sure I knew what being a teammate was until I met David Liebenberg. He has pushed me to work harder every day. Dave has seen the best in me, and has always found a way to help me get closer to it. It has been my privilege to work with and learn from him.

We have surrounded ourselves with a top notch support system (incredible sponsor The Kolter Group; coach Sally Barkow, an amazing performance coach/ sports psych; and our trainer Mike Kuschner at SPT), and have built a program that we are proud of.

We are happy to share that we will continue to see this program through over the coming years.

Over the next year we will train with the US Olympic Team to facilitate their success at the 2020 Games this summer, continue to race in the Olympic circuit events (next up, Hyeres!), train in the USA, mini-campaign in the A-Class as each other’s training partners, work in some coaching of aspiring Olympians, and spend some much needed time with our families.

We cannot express how grateful we have been for your support and love over the last two years, and we are thrilled to be able to continue to be YOUR team as time marches on… THANK YOU and stay tuned to this page for continued updates!

We would also like to send out a big thank you to our sponsor, The Kolter Group, for all they have done for us this quad. We have been so proud to represent Kolter.

Thank you also to our other sponsors: Hyatt, Kilroy, Moore & Co., Harken, Marlow, Helly Hansen, The Richmond Sailing Foundation, St. Francis Sailing Foundation and the US Sailing Team. We could not have done this without you!

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