Team GB Olympic sailing manager Stephen Park explains what makes this Olympic Games so different and why a medal in each class is unrealistic
Take any sport and a home advantage is just that, olympic sailing is no different – but why?
Many of the top teams have been based in the Weymouth area for months and have competed in all the major events for years. Some have employed local weather experts and tide analysts to help to decode the conditions. Some have even employed pilots to give them a regular view of the race area from above. The variety of conditions that this venue can throw at competitors is as well known to the top foreigners as it is to the locals. Few should be surprised at what the weather can throw at them.
Foreigners should be used to the pressure too. Since the Olympic classes’ Sail for Gold regatta became part of the ISAF World Sailing circuit, Weymouth has been a regular and highly competitive event that has frequently felt like the Olympics, such has been the intensity of the racing.
So what is it that might give the home team an advantage?
“The biggest difference is that we are operating in a British environment with a lot of British people around and therefore plenty of support for the team,” explained GB team manager Stephen Park for whom this is his third Olympics in this role. (He was coach to Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks at the 2000 Games in Sydney). “I think that at a home Games there is the opportunity for our sailors to head off occasionally and do the kind of things that they would normally do.
“Paul Goodison referred to playing golf against Nick Dempsey the other morning at his local golf club. He plays the holes that he normally does, relaxes with the same people, has the same banter and so on. That’s very difficult when you’re away.”
But its not necessarily all win/win for the home team according to Park.
“Equally you have the contrast in that because you can do that makes it very important that you don’t take your eye off the ball.
At this stage in the Beijing cycle everybody had been on site for 60 days. Everything that you needed for your campaign you had to put in the box before you went away and got on the plane. If you didn’t have it that was pretty much it.
“Here if you’ve left your lucky socks at home you can arrange for someone to collect them for you.”
Given the well documented success of the British sailing team over the last decade in particular added to Park’s view that for the first time the British team has a realistic chance of a medal in every class, so could the Brits deliver 10 medals as the Americans did in 1984 when they hosted the Games?
“It is a possibility, but it is extremely unlikely,” said Park. “I think what’s changed has been the environment that we’re operating in now compared to those days is far more professional for all nations. The difference between first and tenth in the fleet is far, far tighter.
You only need to make one little mistake or be off your game for one day and someone who is on their game is going to take advantage of that.
“In the majority of classes we see different people winning . Normally there is a group of six or eight at the top of each fleet and it is very difficult to predict on any particular day who is going to win on that day.
“So from our perspective we are looking for a conversion rate of about 50 percent of medal opportunities to medals. If everything went well for our teams, yes it’s a possibility to win in all classes, but highly unlikely” he continued.
“Personally I think that it will also be difficult for any nation to exceed the six medals that we won in Beijing, including ourselves, even though we have stronger team. I also think that any team that wins more than three medals in the sailing event will put themselves into the top three nations at this event.”
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