Leading the U.S. back to the top
Published on August 5th, 2021
In March 2021, Paul Cayard took on the role of Executive Director of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Program. With the completion now of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Cayard offers his observations from the event along with his outlook for the future:
(August 5, 2021) – I am departing Japan today after absorbing the Olympic environment, observing our team in action, and getting pointers from old friends who have been running teams in this game for decades. It has been a great opportunity for me as I embark on what I expect to be a seven-year mission of leading the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team back to the top of the podium.
Our team prepared hard for the last five years, and raced with intensity and professionalism here on the big stage. While we were not medal favorites in any event, each of our 13 Olympians were competitive in the most elite field of play in the sport. They represented their country extremely well, both on and off the water.
They also worked through unprecedented pandemic-related challenges that impacted both their performance development and their lives in general. The 2020 Team is to be commended for their dedication and perseverance.
As has been noted before, Team USA has a long history of dominance in Olympic Sailing. At Los Angeles 1984, our team won nothing but Gold and Silver in all seven events. In the eight years from ’84-‘92, we were the dominant sailing team in the world, winning 21 medals.
In the last three Olympiads, 2012-2020, Team USA has come away with a total of one bronze. We are no longer the winningest nation in Olympic history. That honor has now gone to Great Britain, who have been the dominant team after a complete makeover of their strategy following Atlanta 1996.
Many of us in America are dissatisfied by our Olympic sailing trend and want to correct our course. While being in the middle of the pack is not a bad thing, it is just not how Americans think of themselves.
Moving up the Olympic pecking order is not going to be easy. No one is going to get out of our way. We need to build a machine that puts teams and athletes in a position where their usual routine will produce a podium result on a regular basis. This is about cultivation, education, preparation, and execution on game day. This is about proper process and procedure.
So where are we now, as we form our strategy for the next seven years?
We did produce gold-medal quality athlete support here in Japan. Team USA’s logistical, organizational, and technical support was highly regarded by all national teams. However, we need the resources to allow this to occur more frequently and consistently throughout the quadrennium.
Seven of our Tokyo 2020 athletes, along with other standout Americans who did not win their Olympic trials, have already committed to continuing towards Paris 2024. Continuity is critical and commendable after the sacrifices already made over the past five years.
We have a strong pipeline of talent back home who have been boosted by our Olympic Development Program. This includes our dinghy, skiff, board, and foiling communities. In the last four years, the USA has been the dominant player at the U19 level and those athletes, worldwide, are now coming up to their Olympic teams. Five of the events in 2024 will be new. Change creates opportunity, if you are not “king of the hill” in the current game.
We have a good core of supporters who believe that Olympic sailing is important to all of sailing through creating a depth of talent that permeates the sport. Olympic sailing inspires youth sailors and teaches life skills along the way. It builds people who can lead, make decisions and be team players.
In the USA, we also possess excellence in key sectors that contribute to winning in sports. These include technology, organization, elite athleticism, coaching, and financial resources. We don’t have to reinvent anything. We simply need to design a system and process to bring that excellence to bear on the field of play. A machine that will be sustainable for years to come.
We have good insights as to how other countries play the game, but no other country’s strategy will work for us. Each country has unique challenges and its own strengths, weaknesses and culture. When strategizing, these attributes must be measured against a constantly changing performance environment. The task here is to design the right strategy to get to the front of the pack and stay ahead of that evolution.
I have taken on the Executive Director role in U.S. Olympic Sailing because I am passionate about getting Team USA back to the top. The Olympics is a source of national pride and a measure of competence in each sport. I want our sailors to be acknowledged as the best sailors in the world, once again. I want our youth to be inspired by U.S. idols in their sport. I also want them to learn the valuable life skills that fighting to be the best instills.
This is more than a project; it needs to be a movement. That means broad support. I hope you are inspired to get involved. Support the junior program at your club, support an individual athlete who is dreaming big, or support the US Sailing Team. If you feel moved to contribute ideas, time or dollars, write to me: email@example.com.
The ten sailing events were staggered from July 25 to August 4.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Results – USA*
9. Riley Gibbs/ Anna Weis, Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
9. Pedro Pascual, Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
9. Stu McNay/ Dave Hughes, Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
11. Stephanie Roble/ Maggie Shea, Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
12. Nikole Barnes/ Lara Dallman-Weiss, Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
13. Luke Muller, Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
13. Charlie Buckingham, Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
15. Farrah Hall, Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
37. Paige Railey, Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
*Did not qualify to compete in Men’s Skiff – 49er event