Meet the New Boss; Not the Same as the Old Boss?
Meet the New Boss; Not the Same as the Old Boss?
With seven years as a member of US Sailing's Olympic Sailing Committee, and double that as an industry insider, many see former Olympic hopeful Josh Adams as ideally qualified to take over leadership of the U.S. Olympic Sailing program. Others feel his appointment will perpetuate the philosophies that left the U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider without a medal in the 2012 Olympics.
We’re looking ahead to an Olympics that could well have 40 percent new classes: the two kiteboarding events, women’s skiff, and the coed multihull. How do you jumpstart those classes? What’s the best way to take advantage of the opportunity that exists there?
The word there is opportunity. This is going to be a really neat quad; if all the decisions on classes hold up, we’re looking at 40 percent change in Olympic classes, and that’s unprecedented. You can also characterize these sweeping changes as finally making Olympic sailing a high-performance sailing competition, a high-performance dinghy competition. Look at the largest boat now: a 17-foot, lightweight catamaran. One aspect that is really positive and will help our preparation for Rio is the fact that there’s more symmetry in classes. So you’ve got the Laser, Laser Radial; men’s and women’s 470; men’s and women’s skiff; men’s and women’s kite. And that’s great symmetry, and we’re going to look to become as sufficient as we can with the training of our classes, which means making sure that each class is building a base knowledge of how to develop the boats, and the technique for sailing them, and that all of that information gets passed on across to the men’s and women’s teams, and also the youth development teams.
U.S. Olympic sailing has always a strong do-it-yourself ethic. Even in the past quad, there was a lot more support for the athletes, but getting to that Olympic level was often something athletes had to do on their own. I’m betting that the big Olympic teams over in Europe: the Dutch, the Brits, the French, possibly the Germans; also Australia and New Zealand, they’re going to be throwing a lot of money at these classes, the cats and the kiteboarding. Do you match that simply with money? How do you jumpstart our athletes? If you wait for athletes of pull their campaign together and distinguish themselves, it may be too late.
You’re right. And really, it goes class-by-class. There will be some classes where we’re going to have a solid concentration of sailors, and it makes it easier to get them all to work together, and to support them. And there will be other classes where we’ll need to be a little more hands-on, and make the opportunities happen for the sailors.
What about retaining your top athletes? How you keep people like Anna Tunnicliffe, Zach Railey, Paige Railey, Erik Storck and Trevor Moore, Sarah Lihan ... These are people who are maybe on the fence about continuing with another Olympic campaign. How do you keep them on the team so their experience in 2012 doesn’t go to waste?
Well, I think we’ve seen success in that area, and the easiest way is to make sure they get good financial support from the program. But the support that they get from U.S. Olympic Program goes beyond just money. There are a lot of other resources they get from the program, especially when they jump to a new class. We’re at a point now where these multiple campaigners—we’ll use the example of Anna Tunnicliffe and Zach Railey—they need to really commit themselves to it. Gone are the days where you hop into a class and sail for a year and a half, or two years. It’s really hard to compete on the international level by taking that approach these days. So, we’ll do everything we can to help them continue on.
How much do you potentially bend the rules for these people? For the past four years, the funding was very result-oriented, it was very straight-forward. I think a lot of people like that. But it did potentially leave some athletes maybe out on a limb, or a little bit underfunded for a variety of reasons. When you look at these elite athletes, guys who have done two or three Olympic campaigns, how much do you tailor the Team or the rule to them?
If we’re going to achieve sustainable performance in U.S. Olympic Sailing, we need to broaden the base of sailors that gets involved in Olympic classes. There has to be a balance there between supporting our top sailors, supporting up-and-coming sailors, and also supporting classes. So, we’re going to build a strategy that will ensure that our top sailors who have earned it on a performance basis, and earned it on the water, that they get the support they need, all the way to Rio. At the same time, we want to build more class depth and a broader base of Olympic sailors. And that means coming up with a strategy that reaches more sailors.
One of the other big decisions that was made, which was a big departure from the past for the U.S. Team, was the size of the coaching staff. If you go back four years or eight years, the full-time U.S. staff was two or three or maybe four coaches. This time there were a lot more guys hired for the quad, which takes money that could go to the sailors to hire coaches of their own choice. What do you think about that decision, and do you plan on having such a large full-time, or on-retainer staff as you did last time?
The eternal debate in Olympic Sailing is how much money to spend on sailors versus how much money to spend on coaching. Both are important, and the argument can be made that money spent on coaching is money being spent on sailors. As we start to build our strategy for this quad, we will come up with a specific plan for how we allocate coaching funds, and how that balances with the money that’s going to sailors. We need to complete our review before we make decisions like that, but it is a really important issue that we’ll evaluate.
We mentioned earlier the 40 percent new classes, that this is if the vote holds--which is a good point, because there is obviously quite a big push to reinstate the windsurfers, the Stars are angling to get back in, so is women’s match racing. US Sailing has been criticized in the past for the influence it’s exerted over these decisions. What do you think US Sailing’s role should be when it comes to deciding the Olympic classes? We have an outsized amount of power on the ISAF Council. How much should we influence the decisions, and what should be the factors in deciding how we influence the decisions?
When those decisions are made, there’s a couple things that come into play; what’s best for sailing, and what’s best for U.S. Olympic Sailing. My philosophy on class choice is, we will prepare U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider for whatever classes, for whatever Olympic fleets there are in Rio. We’re not going to lose a lot of sleep over the politics behind, or the decisions made about the classes.
Do you think that US Sailing should be pushing ISAF to pick classes where it feels the U.S. has an advantage? In the past the U.S. delegation has gone [to the ISAF annual meeting] and pushed for a slate of classes that favors our particular skill set, or athletes. Is that something that we should continue to do?
I think that oversimplifies it a little bit. We don’t just push for classes that give us the best chance at medaling. We do consider what is good for sailing, and what is good for sailing in the U.S.