As the curtain comes down on another successful Olympic quadrennium, RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park explains how the British Sailing Team is already making its first in-roads towards Tokyo 2020.
For this Rio cycle, the British Sailing Team has continued to go from strength to strength.
It was great that for the last couple of years, just as international competition was heating up towards the Games, we managed to top the World Championship medal table, the World Cup medal table and ultimately be top nation at the Olympics itself and the only nation to have sailors in every medal race.
But the results at the Games, where a record 17 nations made the podium across the 10 events, show that our sport is becoming more competitive than it has ever been, and you do not need to do much wrong to find yourself dropping out of the medals.
We are delighted and proud to celebrate our successes this cycle, and for sailing to have played its part in a fantastic Games for the whole of Team GB. However we work in performance sport at the end of the day, so it is a natural process to be thinking about certain ‘could haves’ or ‘should haves’, and where we can make little refinements and improvements as a team to keep us fighting it out at the front of the fleet as we now turn our attentions towards Tokyo 2020.
We have had a period of reflection and analysis post-Rio to be clear about where we think there are opportunities for the Tokyo cycle, and one of the successful projects in 2016 was the submission of our initial 2017-2020 strategy to our funding partners UK Sport. This moved us six to nine months ahead of where we were four years ago and means that we are hopefully in a position to get a good funding award and hit the ground running at the start of the new year.
Tokyo is going to be a completely different venue, a completely different culture and we are really excited about that change. We had our first team trip there in October with some of the sailors and support staff getting their first sight of the venue and their first taste of the Japanese way of life.
The sailing venue will be in Enoshima, about an hour outside of the city, which is where Keith Musto and Tony Morgan won their silver medal back in 1964. On one hand, it is a little bit disappointing that sailing will be outside of the city and the hub of the Olympic action, but the locals are really keen for the Olympics and for sailing to be in Enoshima.
Everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming and, unlike the experiences in Brazil, it is incredibly well organised and orderly. In most ways that is great, but it also means that where you might think there is a little option for you to make some small gain in and around the fringes, it may be a lot harder in Tokyo because it is a much more regimented society.
The sailing itself is in a big open bay, so quite different to the harbour venue that we had in Brazil. It will be quite warm and a predominantly sea breeze venue we believe, and so that is going to mean a different emphasis for the sailors during that time.
Getting a good base set up and accommodation will be important, but will also be a challenge in Japan and because of the population density on shore things tend to be expensive.
We will also have to think carefully about how we deal with logistics, made more complicated because the eight hour time difference between the UK and Japan is the worst that it could possibly be for jetlag. Most people find it worse than having a 12 hour shift.
That does mean that doing short trips to the venue as we were able to do for Rio is pretty much impossible and we are going to need more recovery time factored in to be fully effective and ready to properly train hard. The training trips will therefore need to be a little bit longer and will need more planning and looked at carefully in terms of logistics and finances.
Another positive is the confirmation from World Sailing of what the events will be for the Tokyo Games. There had been a lot of debate around this subject, with an outcome not initially expected until the middle of 2017.
Despite having a regulation that said they were not going to discuss the Olympic Classes in November, World Sailing duly did and confirmed the 10 events that were raced in Rio will be the 10 events that will be raced in Tokyo, albeit with some format changes and some equipment regulation changes, most notably in the Nacra 17.
That decision gives a huge amount of stability to the sailors and confidence that they can crack on and initiate their campaigns. At the same time, World Sailing is keen to consider the opportunity of an eleventh and possibly even twelfth event. The twelfth event could be an event for the existing athlete cohort, potentially creating the opportunity for sailors for the first time to be able to win more than one medal at an Olympic Games.
There is great excitement about the Nacra moving to foiling – albeit with some challenges and cost implications, but the Class Association is working hard with the builders to move all that on. Theatre-style racing for the 49ers will make the final day of their regatta different and exciting as well.
Disappointingly, of course, while all the excitement is about new formats and possibly new events for Tokyo, there is the reminder that we are not going to be racing the Paralympic classes at the 2020 Games.
There is still quite a lot of work to be done to move the Paralympic side of the sport on, although there is great commitment from World Sailing to ensuring that sailing is back on the Paralympic programme for 2024.
The RYA is pulling together its disabled sailing strategy with a strong emphasis on supporting activity in the events that would make up the Paralympic disciplines at future Paralympic Games, and supporting the development of Paralympic sailing and the World Sailing disabled strategy to get the sport reinstated at the Paralympic Games.
RYA CEO Sarah Treseder is heavily involved in leading that side and there is already a commitment both practically and financially to supporting post-Paralympic disabled sailing.
As we go on in terms of participation at the World Championships, increasing country numbers and supporting other developing nations I think you will see the RYA playing a significant role in that moving forward.
The opportunities at the start of a new Olympic cycle are always exciting – new faces and new partnerships looking to make their mark at the front of the fleet and a new venue to get to know. We are looking forward to spending our next few years learning all about the ‘land of the rising sun’.
Find out more about the British Sailing Team at www.rya.org.uk/britishsailingteam