Aug 9, 2012, 11:10 AM
From Gerard Koeppel:
Re: [The Publisher] No medals for US Sailing Team at 2012 Games
First, regarding participation, there were twelve US teams at the recently completed I420 Worlds in Austria (http://events.sailracer.org/eventsites/entries_embed.asp?eventid=91106); only three made Gold fleets (http://events.sailracer.org/eventsites/results_420.asp?eventid=91106). Many of these teams are spending most of their summer in Europe, competing at Kiel Race Week (5 teams), Youth Worlds in Dublin (2), French Nationals (6), Worlds in Austria (12), and the upcoming Junior Europeans in Italy (7): a Five Nation Army in stars and stripes (apologies, Jack White, I couldn't resist). A Greek coach, who has also coached many of these US kids in regattas and clinics, has noted the high numbers of US kids competing in Europe this summer.
While the results so far have been disappointing to many of the sailors who are used to doing better, there have been a couple of podium spots (a third at French, a first in the Under-16 category at Worlds) and substantial, invaluable learning across the board. Their coaches this summer have included a top US collegiate coach who was a collegiate All-American and a US Olympic coach; a coach of previous trophy-winning US and international teams who was a top-five ISAF ranked sailor in two classes and a Smythe winner; and a champion 470 sailor who is the regular coach for many of the sailors with LISOT, the year-round training team founded in 2003 for junior sailors in Western Long Island Sound who are looking beyond their eight-week yacht club summer programs. US I420 kids are sailing in Europe under several banners: USSailing (Youth Worlds), the USI420 Association (Worlds, Junior Europeans), and LISOT (Kiel, French)
Now, some response to the points you raise. Of the couple dozen US juniors sailing 420s in Europe this summer who are college-age this fall or next, I know of one team that is postponing college to start a 2016 Olympic campaign (in 470s). The vast majority are headed to college this year or next, some of them highly recruited for college teams they and the coaches hope will be national champions. Some of these sailors may shoot for 2020 after college but for the next four years they will be largely off the international circuit and may wind up where most of racing American sailors are: around the yacht club buoys and/or the blue water rhumb line.
An enduring issue in US youth (and other) sailing is participation versus performance, engagement versus excellence: Do we want more kids to participate and grow the sport, or do we focus on the truly outstanding racers and let the others migrate to club racing or other sports. US youth racing starts with participation medals in Opti Green fleets; at what if any point should the likeliest future Olympians be separated or (self-)selected from the pack? At this year's I420 Youth Worlds Qualifier, the winning boy team secured its place with a first in the final race, after a long postponement and a general recall, overcoming the leading team which had its single bad race of the regatta. With that race, the winning team became a member of the USSailing Youth Development Team, was invited to a training session with the Olympic team in Colorado, got sponsored and discounted gear, and represented US Boys at Youth Worlds. With the experience, this team tasted Olympic-type sailing and has been inspired to consider 2020. In winning the qualifier, this team beat, among others, the previous year's winner. Next year, both will compete again. A different winner may emerge. Thus, three possible future Olympians...or just three teams that happened to have a good regatta? Maybe the teams that finish third or seventh may turn out to be the Olympians.
US junior sailors are almost entirely self-supported. The situation is different for other countries, especially Southeast Asians. Look at the results in Worlds Ladies Gold. The Chilean team, the country's only representative, are fierce competitors (their coach is an occasional coach of many of the US kids, through LISOT). The Chile girls are entirely self-supported. In the final race, they lost their overall lead by a point to a team from Singapore, giving Singapore a 1, 3, 4 (and a 33) for the event. The Singapore sailors sail for their nation, the government of which nurtures, fosters, supports, and rewards them. I'm not expressing an opinion here. I'm just stating facts: this is what US (and other self-supported) sailors are competing against.
Readers interested in following the progress of US I420 (and C420 and Opti sailors) can check out the Facebook page of LISOT. Most of US I420 sailors competing in Europe this summer train with LISOT, which now attracts sailors from around the US (the top US I420 Worlds skipper came up from Florida many Spring weekends to train). In a country that lacks a national infrastructure to develop future Olympians from their Opti years, LISOT is the closest thing we have to a national youth training team for 420s.
Hope these comments add to what is an ongoing discussion of how and why US sailors compete in the world. I will now find a boat cover to hide under until the usual storm of alternate views blows over...