RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park looks ahead to an exciting Games year in our latest British Sailing Team column
It is almost hard to believe that we are in an Olympic and Paralympic Games year once again.
2015 was a busy year and a long regatta season, with major events running right through from January until December, but it was good to see the British Sailing Team emerge from the pre-Games year in good shape.
We ended the year as top nation in terms of the medal table from the Olympic Classes World Championships, and we were also the top nation in the Sailing World Cup series. We had crews in medal positions in two out of the three events in the Paralympic Classes, narrowly missing out in the third. While there is still plenty of work to be done, in terms of outcomes against other nations I think we are shaping up pretty well.
It was great to see Giles Scott’s continued dominance in the Finn class, culminating in his third world title, and Nick Thompson’s long-awaited first Laser World Championship victory. The Sonar team of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas rounded off a difficult year with gold at the Para World Sailing Championships, where Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell also claimed silver. Bryony Shaw also had a fantastic 2015 and probably her best year ever in the RS:X, really making some good ground, as have the 470 Women Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark.
We are making good progress across the other classes as well, and I am confident that we will be in the position of having 13 realistic medal opportunities across the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes by the time we get to the Games. That is our aim, with the goal to convert around half of those medal opportunities into podium finishes.
That will be no mean feat in the testing venue that is Rio, and amid an increasingly competitive international fleet. The differences between first and fourth in the Olympic Classes are smaller than they have ever been. Right across all the fleets it Is becoming more and more competitive which, from a sporting perspective, is fantastic but of course our job is about winning those medals, so it just means it is tougher for the British Sailing Team.
It reinforces the need for us to be looking for every single gain that we can make, pulling together across the classes and using all our experience in what will be an aggressive environment and competitive landscape at the Games in Rio.
We have visited Rio many times now, and will visit many more times in the months leading up to the Games. Maximising time in the venue is a key part of our strategy to try and understand the vagaries of the tide and the wind there.
It is a challenging venue that even the locals are struggling with, so for visiting sailors to give themselves the best chance of mitigating home advantage they need to be there often enough and for long enough to try and get to grips with it.
Throughout 2016 we will see the excitement levels start to build and that buzz around the Games will grow once more. I think as we get closer, all the negative chat around Rio will dissipate and people will be trying to contain their excitement about going to South America to compete, or witnessing what will be an absolutely fantastic Games.
We certainly hope to play our part in providing some incredible sporting moments as part of Team GB and ParalympicsGB, and some great inspiration for kids of the nation and hopefully for the country as a whole.
I hope you will continue to follow us on our journey, and of course the Sailing World Cup in Weymouth and Portland (6 – 12 June) will be a fantastic opportunity to come along and see our Olympic and Paralympic stars in action on home waters at what is the final major international regatta before the Games itself. We’d love to see you there to experience what elite level sailing is all about, and to wish the British Sailing Team well before they head off to Rio!
The National Lottery-funded British Sailing Team is proudly supported by official partners Volvo Car UK, Zhik and Peters & May. Follow the team’s latest news and updates at britishsailingteam.com or on Twitter @BritishSailing