Over 15 years' involvement in Olympic teams has done nothing to dull the edge of the team manager, a driven former dinghy champion who will accept no excuses from himself nor his sailors, reports Matthew Sheahan
Age – 44
Height – 1.78m (5ft 10in)
Weight – 82kg
Born – Glasgow
Grew up – Helensburgh
Started sailing – aged 8
School – Hermitage Academy
– Degree in Sport at Scottish School of Physical Education; diploma in
Management at Newcastle University; MSc in Recreational Management at
Turned professional – National Racing Coach 1992
Current home – Titchfield, Hants
Nickname – Sparky
Status – Married, one child
Last time we met, I asked Stephen Park what he was reading. Winning at all Costs: Sporting Heroes and their Demons, he replied. I mentioned that it was one of Park’s favourite books to one of the Olympic sailors. “Typical,” they replied, in a tone that was pretty ambiguous.
That the choice of a book can sum up a character so swiftly says a lot about the difficult role played by the manager of an elite sporting team. On the one hand, it reveals someone who looks across all sports for techniques or tips that might improve the success of their team. On the other, it betrays a single-mindedness that says the only thing that matters is winning.
Park would be happy with either interpretation. He seems the stereotypical Scottish hard-man, a no-excuses personality who knows his job is to deliver results.
This may be hardly surprising. Success was an important part of his early life as his titles as Scottish Schools champion in Mirror dinghies and the Olympic campaigns in 470 (1992)andTornado(1996)proved.As a competitor turned coach/manager, he knows what life is like on both sides of the fence. But whichever role he is in, he is deeply competitive. It comes as little surprise to learn that this keen cyclist recently competed in his first road race and came 3rd out of 80.
Yet contrary to what his list of favourite activies (cycling, motorbikes and cars) and goals (his ambition is to learn to skydive) may suggest, Park is not a thrill-seeker. Instead, he wants to know he can achieve something himself; success in his terms can also mean mastering a technique.
Briefly, almost in jest, he admits to the odd occassion when he still lays down a dare to himself, such as riding his bike at full speed with no hands. The admission to me as a journalist feels almost like a challenge in itself.
As we run through the questions he rarely hesitates in his answers. Even when he does, he shows no sign of uncertainty. He might briefly stare back waiting for agreement, but if it doesn’t come he moves on swiftly.
Many of his elite squad say that focus is at the heart of their campaign. It is for Park too. But while that of the sailors is directed towards their boats and physical abilitites, Park trains his spotlight primarily on mindsets, both his own and that of his sailors.
That said, his role requires him to take a far broader picture of the campaign plan. Leading an Olympic team and an elite squad requires a knowledge not just of the techniques ofsailingandthephysicaldemandsit makes, but of its support system. From politics to funding, it is the areas of the sport away from the water and training that have been essential to nurture the most successful Olympic sailing team in the world.
So what’s the worst part of his job?
“Having to tell people that they’re not going to the Games,” he admits. There is no chapter on this in his former favourite book.
First class raced – Mirror, aged 11
Favourite sailing venue – Sydney Harbour
Favourite regatta – Brewin Dolphin
Favourite boat – Star
Current car – Volvo VO70
Favourite car – Caterham 7 & Sunbeam Impreza (owns both)
Dream car – Ferarri 458
Film – Ronin with Robert de Niro
Band – ACDC
Book – Touching the Void
iPhone app – Met Office app
iPod top 3 most played
With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles
Louder – DJ Fresh
How You Like Me Now – The Heavy