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Change needed for US Olympic Sailing

Published on March 25th, 2023

When nationalism meets sport, passion follows. That is the privilege for Sailing being an Olympic sport. But while the Summer Games are only every four years, the effort by athletes and supporters is a race against that clock.

The US Olympic Sailing Program, which had offered optimism that it could regain its once elite stature, has been disrupted by internal turmoil. Professional coach and competitor Kevin Jewett hopes this latest chapter leads to real change for a better future:

This is a sport that requires at a minimum parity to be competitive. Simple math tells us that we are competing at a huge disadvantage to other countries. I’m so sorry to see another turning up of the nose by US Sailing organization. We did finally have some traction and momentum after many brave but stalled attempts to get on track.

The Team, while it does need all sorts of administration, needs more than anything to be allowed to seek after its long-term goals without disruption, and frankly, interruption. It’s a professional sport, not a pastime played by people with spare time. We won in the past when it was not professional because we had great classes and sailors that were ahead of the curve. Now it’s a job.

Former Executive Director Paul Cayard and others got it, they were getting buy in by those that could build the foundation needed to support this reality. The question now is how can this volunteer board bring the pieces together? My guess is they can’t, and the athletes will continue to suffer. The right answer may finally be in separation. I personally have seen too many good people get torched in the effort to keep our Olympic hopes burning.

Let’s have the recreational sailing membership be managed by a membership organization and the Olympic program focus on their goals without compromise or interference. The separation exists naturally, anyone at the top of the game knows that the basic services provided by US Sailing don’t play much of a role in competitive success. Sometimes it gets in the way.

Take for instance coaching certifications. I’ve taught quite a few high-level US Sailing Coaching courses over the years, but I don’t think two-time Olympic medalist Kevin Burnham (could be wrong here) ever took one. He wouldn’t have been qualified to coach at events if everyone played by the book, and that’s a waste of talent, but it’s duplicated time and time again.

Don’t get me wrong, US Sailing does a lot right. Education/safety should be job one in my estimation. However, this isn’t the same as running a professional sporting program. I think we simply need to separate organizations and leadership structure.

One of my sailing friends and mentors used to say, “I don’t know why something bad usually has to happen before people make the little changes that improve their lives?” This seems to be the time to seriously consider a small but important change.

Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Program:
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Mixed Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Women’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Men’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Women’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

Venue: Marseille, France
Dates: July 26-August 11


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