Turning turmoil into progress

Published on February 5th, 2024

The Los Angeles 2028 Games is a rare opportunity for the USA to boost its Olympic Sailing Program, yet it is unclear how that will occur. Frequent leadership turnover impacts credibility, with the online portal providing little direction. Unable or unwilling to build brand interest, apathy grows.

It all gets a bit hard to watch, but can recent turmoil lead to necessary progress? Professional coach and competitor Kevin Jewett hopes so in this report:

As a kid, I was inspired by the incredible success of the 1984 and 1988’US Sailing Teams. Having attempted two campaigns and being close with past team leadership Greg Fisher and Jim Campbell, I have witnessed some of the frustration of working with US Sailing to tackle the daunting challenge of keeping up with other National Teams.

The problem: USA isn’t getting Olympic medals anymore.

The cause: Our funding structure is a fraction of that provided to athletes from other competitive countries. This limits the pool of athletes to children of the ultra-elite or on rare occasion those that find high level funding through personal relationships.

Conflict they say leads to resolution. Resolve is part of the solution here and I’d like to suggest a few key points that will be necessary to find our footing again:
• First: Match resources. Easier said than done but let’s not kid ourselves. The US Sailing Team needs nearly 10 times the amount currently raised to match what the British team receives annually. An endowed fund of $400-500 Million would put us on the similar footing.

This was the path that Jim Campbell suggested and was pursuing when he successfully landed the first seven-figure gift to the program. But leadership at US Sailing discouraged his efforts, insisting that top level donors only be asked to hit the $25,000 giving mark which was the top level at the time.

Previous Executive Director Paul Cayard and company was making progress on this front, but I don’t think the broader sailing community in the US is even vaguely aware of the shortfall our team is left with.

• Second: Clarify the ladder. Equally distribute funds to the top three sailors/teams in all Olympic Classes. At the top level, those with medal contention will receive additional funding but at a minimum there needs to be some equivalency in funding across the classes to give sailors a clear path to strive for. Objective, non-biased funding is key.

• Third: Continue building pathways to the US Sailing Team from the youth level but also in collaboration with High School and College Sailing. These formats, while often maligned, are the most level playing field and by some margin one of the best ways to identify talent regardless of financial status. Providing pathways through performance to access to training and guidance to those who both qualify and show interest in pursuing Olympic sailing takes advantage of one of the few growing areas of the sport and has the potential to turn a “weakness” into a strength for American sailing.

Currently there’s a lot of damage being done to the platforms that our athletes rely on. First step needs to be to resolve this current flair. It takes passion to bring change, but it also takes cooperation to make progress. We have some additional attention due to the drama that has unfolded over the past year.

In my experience, there must be a voice in the room that knows and respects the concerns of both sides of an issue. Do we have that voice currently?

Could it be that all this leads to a better US Olympic Sailing Team? I believe it does, but we need to get some calm heads in the room to coordinate the efforts. As Mike Gebhardt once told me while learning to water start on a shortboard in the Gorge: “There’s plenty of power in the wind; you just have to align to forces.”

Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Program*:
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7 (41)
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6 (41)
Mixed Two Person Dinghy – 470 (19)
Men’s Skiff – 49er (20)
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX (20)
Men’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class (20)
Women’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class (20)
Men’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL (24)
Women’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL (24)
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17 (19)
* Quota per event in parenthesis but does not include Universality Places (2 men, 2 women)

Venue: Marseille, France
Dates: July 28-August 9

• Paris website: https://www.paris2024.org/en/the-olympic-games-paris-2024/
• World Sailing microsite: https://paris2024.sailing.org/

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