Kenneth Andreasen, a native of Denmark, was named the High Performance Director for the U.S. Sailing Team Alphagraphics following the 2008 Olympic Regatta in Qingdao. He coached Zach Railey to a silver medal at that regatta.
The months after an Olympic Games are gravy for the medalists, a time to soak up the rewards of years of hard work. For the coaches of those Olympic medalists, it’s back to work. So while Finn sailor Zach Railey was enjoying the fruits of his surprising silver medal in Qingdao, coach Kenneth Andreasen was prepping for his next challenge, doing what he did for Railey for the entire U.S. Sailing Team Alphagraphics. In late September, Andreasen, a native of Denmark, was named as the replacement for Gary Bodie, who retired after 10 years as the team’s High Performance Director.
[Editor’s note: An except of this interview ran in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Sailing World. The interview took place in early December.]
I recently ran into Zach Railey, he was telling me how his life has changed being an Olympic medalist. What about being the coach of an Olympic medalist? Has your life changed much since Qingdao?
Has my life changed much? Well obviously since starting this new job everything has changed. Being at the Games I was focusing on Zach and only Zach. There was one sailor, one program, and one effort. Now, after becoming high performance director, I have a few more sailors in the fold. So we’re working on all these initiatives with the Sailing Team Alphagraphics, with the Paralympic team, with the youth teams. You’ve probable seen some of the youth announcements we’ve made. So we’re just trying to start a lot of these different programs. It’s been a running start for sure.
Does this assignment represent a high point in your career?
Absolutely. I started out as an assistant coach in Denmark at a club. Having gone all the way and now being the head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team is pretty amazing and something I’m very proud of. Gary has done a really good job the last 10 years and I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure that the program goes even further from where he left it.
Olympic Sailing Committee chair Dean Brenner has set some lofty goals for this team in 2012 and beyond. What sort of pressure does this place upon your shoulders?
I think any job like mine there’s always going to be pressure. I like that. That’s a good thing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m very results-oriented. I’m going to work really, really hard. I’m going to ask the sailors to work really hard. We all know what sailing is, things can happen. But if we prepare really well and work as hard as we can then we [have a chance] to have some good results in 2012. My goal is doing really well and having some stellar results four years down the road.
The first year of a quadrennium is usually fairly slow for many U.S. sailors. Some are taking a break, going back to work or school. But as we’ve seen from the British Olympic effort, there really isn’t room to take too much time off. What sort of goals do you have for this first year?
It depends on who our sailors are. I’ve been talking to all our sailors and made a very big point of talking to them regularly because I want to be involved in their campaigns. Some sailors may be able to take off a year and say I’m at a level right now, where I want to be. And they do that. But other sailors, they realize that in today’s international sailing world it’s really hard to do that because everybody else is fighting extremely hard, they’re getting funding and they can sail full-time, and we have to do the same. I pretty much have the goal of having as many sailors keep going as much as they can right now. Also understanding that it’s not really possible or feasible, mostly mentally, probably, to do a 4-year campaign full on. So what we’re talking about for this year is to do some of the training camps that we have planned, but also do a lot of the events. With the World Cup starting out that’s a great opportunity to go out and make your mark early. So I’m encouraging our sailors to go to as many events as they can and do the training camps and do some training that we’re going to set up besides that. But not 100 percent.
The upcoming Miami Rolex OCR will be the second stop on the inaugural ISAF World Cup. It’s also the only qualifying event for the U.S. Sailing Team Alphagraphics. In the past, qualifying for the team has been based on two or three events. Why go with an all-or-nothing situation this year?
Having a one-event qualifier is very tough and tough on the sailors. What we were looking for is to make a system that was simple and accessible for all these sailors. We are going into the first year in the quad and we didn’t want to have a system where sailors would have to travel all over the place to qualify for this team. So we decided to across the board make the sailing team qualify in Miami and take it from there. Going down the road we’ll probably add some events. And already for the 2010 [U.S. Sailing Team Alphgraphics] qualifiers, we’re talking about having a string of events starting in October and going to March. Which events we haven’t really gotten into detail about yet. But we’ll be announcing that soon for sure. The whole thing is that making the sailing team is really, really important and that’s a huge honor. We want to make that happen. We’re going to have three sailors in each class on the team. All the funding that comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee is based on international results. So we can have sailors who are on the team or are not the team, they’re being supported by USOC. What we want to happen is have sailors go out and get some good international results and secure their funding that way.
You’ve recently announced the formation of two new youth teams, Under 18 and Under 23. It’s quite an ambitious undertaking. What will this bring to Olympic-class development that hasn’t been there of late?
The whole thought about it is to bridge the gap that currently exists between youth sailing and Olympic sailing. Right now we have high school sailing and college sailing filling that gap. It may or may not do exactly what we need it to do. A lot of sailors get into sailing this way and that’s fantastic. But I want to show the sailors that if you’re serious about some Olympic sailing, that this is the path you should be on. That doesn’t mean you have to exclude all other sailing, we would like you to do some events, which we think are very important. International competition is hugely important. If you look at some of the sailors from other countries, they compete not every weekend, but every month at least, in the International 420, or the 29er, or the 470, etc. when they are 16, 17, 18 years old. And our guys haven’t gotten there yet. So I’m trying to close that gap and make it more accessible.
Historically, college sailing has played a large development role in the past for the U.S. Sailing Team. It’s been criticized as being slight off course for Olympic sailing; not enough focus on big-course tactics and boatspeed. What role do you see college and high school sailing filling? Would you advise a talented youth sailor to skip college sailing and focus on international competition?
I’m not going to be telling anyone not to sail. I think college sailing serves a huge purpose in US SAILING. It’s fantastic, all the starts, all the boathandling; it’s phenomenal. But some sailors who want to compete internationally have to realize that they have to go out to do that as well. That doesn’t mean they can’t do college sailing. As a matter of fact, for our Under 23 team, we’re going to set the schedule up so that it doesn’t conflict with the college sailing season. They’re going to be able to do their college sailing, then also do, mainly in the summer, some of these European events, or events around the world. College sailing is here to stay, college sailing is really good for us. But sailors who want to do something else, should be able to do that. One trend, well, I don’t know if I’d call it a trend, but some sailors have commented that now that high school sailing is taking off and becoming very popular, they have done for four years what college sailing also gives. And some sailors don’t really find that too exciting any more, because they’ve done it in high school already. I know that college sailing are looking into some initiatives, maybe updating their program a little bit. I haven’t heard too many details, but I think that’s very exciting.
In 2012, we’ll have a new discipline, women’s match racing. Historically the U.S. has always done well in new disciplines and in keelboats. How do you see the development shaping up for this team?
That’s a very good question and it’s a question that we will answer over the next few months. We have taken the initiative. We are going to have a sailoff-we have four spots at the Rolex Miami OCR for U.S. teams-so in St. Pete here, Dec. 19 through 21, we’re going to have a sail off, we’re going to determine which four teams get to go to Miami and race. So that’s one way of doing it, simply by having the teams come out of the woodwork, sail a qualifier, and then go on and represent the U.S. and themselves at these events. [Editor’s note: Due to less than anticipated foreign interest in the women’s match racing at the OCR, all six U.S. teams advanced to the OCR and the qualifier was canceled.] We are open to any idea. It could be a Dutch-style Yngling program where we have 15 women who are interesting in match racing at different parts of the boat and we rotate sailors around and try to find out what is the best team. How we’re going to do it also depends on what the format is going to be at these World Cup events and the world championships. Right now we are waiting to see how things pan out. Right now we don’t know which other events will host match racing. We know the Miami OCR will. But if all the other world cup events will do it, we don’t know. Until we know those facts we can’t really make a 100-percent plan. We’re going to have coaching committed to the match-race program and we’re going to go out and compete in some events and we’ll take it from there.
The U.S. team for Qingdao was quite a young team. People have spoken about a pretty high rate of return. What is your feel for who will return and make another go at an Olympic medal?
We have a lot of sailors coming back. If we look at the Radial, I already know that Anna [Tunnicliffe] and Paige [Railey] are coming back, also Sarah Lihan is going to be there. One of my first missions in my job here was to have a sit-down talk with Paige and Anna and say, “It’s really great that we have two phenomenal sailors. In order for us to really secure that we’re going to win this gold medal again, we have to work together.” They have worked out, among themselves, a training schedule. They’re going to have myself and Luther [Carpenter] of course involved, some of the other coaches. And they have taken charge. They’re going to be working together in becoming No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. And with Sarah, we’re going to be 1-2-3 in the world. That’s at least our goal. We have Zach of course in the Finn. We have Brad Funk in the Laser, we also have Clay Johnson and a couple of other guys coming up. Tim Wadlow is taking a break for a year, but we have some young guys coming up in the 49er: Erik Storck, Trevor Moore, Peet Must, Car Horrocks, some very good sailors who are going to be fighting it out this year. The Star is a little bit more open, but I know both Andy Horton and Mark Mendelblatt are planning campaigns. Mark is coming back strong in 2009 and wants to put his mark on it early. In the 470, we have Stu [McNay] and Graham [Biehl] coming back. They’re actually going to Sail Melbourne, as is Anna in the Radial. As far as the women’s 470, Erin [Maxwell] and Isabelle [Kinsolving] have signed on for another year. They just bought a new boat that’s coming over. Molly [Carapiet] and Molly [O’Bryan Vandemoer] are coming back. We have a lot of sailors coming back and that’s just fantastic. It’s really exciting that we’ve put together a program that the sailors like and they say, we want to do that again. I’m very excited about that.
Finally, what does Zach need to do to vault past Ben Ainslie, and keep the rest of the Finn fleet at bay, and turn that silver into a gold in 2012?
He needs to do exactly what he did for the last four years. He put together a campaign where he worked really, really hard. He got a lot faster. But he needs to get even faster than he is now. Then of course, time is a good thing in sailboat racing. You mature, you learn to make better decisions. We spoke at the press conference at Qingdao, and you asked me what did Ben do differently. I think I said something like he didn’t make so many mistakes. He basically makes a few fewer mistakes than some of the other guys. That’s where Zach needs to be. I have no doubt that Zach can beat Ben, he just needs to go out there and put and effort onto it. He showed that he can stay even with him, and he was ahead of him halfway through the regatta. That’s really exciting. At some of these events where Ben and Zach met in the last year, he was just as fast. So Zach’s goal is to go out and become faster than Ben, learn to make fewer mistakes, then be able to keep the pressure on for the whole regatta.