Four years certainly passes quickly when you’re in elite sport.
It’s almost hard to believe that when the clock hits midnight this New Year, we’ll be in an Olympic and Paralympic Games year once again when London 2012 still, in some ways, seems like only yesterday.
Our focus towards Rio 2016 gold remains resolute, but nonetheless it’s always a good time of year to take stock of what’s happened and celebrate the achievements of the year that’s just passed.
For sure, 2015 has been a busy year and a long competition season, with key events from January right through to December. While there’s plenty of work still to be done to ensure we remain medal competitive in all ten Olympic and all three Paralympic Classes come the start of the Games, I think we have to say on the whole the British Sailing Team has had a successful year, and we head into the Games year in good shape.
2015 has seen us, in conjunction with the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association, make our first sailor selections for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That’s always a bittersweet task for me as team manager – you make a phone call one moment that brings someone one step closer to achieving their dreams, and then in the next moment you’re having to let someone else know that their turn will have to wait another four years.
It’s both the best and worst part of my job, but at the same time, there’s some pride in knowing that, even though those sailors won’t get their Games opportunities this time around, they are World Class athletes in their own right who play a huge role towards our medal success, pushing their teammates all the way, and raising the level in the pursuit of Olympic gold. We are lucky to have such talented and dedicated sailors as part of our team.
We’ve ended the 2015 season as top nation in terms of the medal table from the Olympic Classes World Championships, and 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, so in terms of actual outcomes against other nations then we’re shaping up pretty well.
It’s been great to see Giles Scott’s Finn dominance continue with a third World Championship title last month, and Nick Thompson finally gaining the World Championship top spot after so many close calls in previous years. The Sonar crew of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas rounded off a difficult year in style with gold at the Para World Sailing Championships, where Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell also claimed silver. Bryony Shaw has also had a fantastic year 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’re making good progress in the 49erFX and the Nacra 17 as the two new classes for this Olympic cycle, and in one or two of the other events we have well-proven talents who perhaps at times haven’t got it all together as they would have liked this year, but they know what they need to do. I’m confident we will be in the position of having those 13 realistic medal opportunities across the classes by the time we get to the Games next summer.
As I write, I’m once again in Rio with the team, and we are taking one final opportunity in 2015 to learn as much as we can about racing and conditions at the 2016 Games venue before a well-earned Christmas break.
We’ve visited Rio many times now, and will visit many more times in the months leading up to the Games.
It’s a fascinating and challenging venue in terms of the vagaries of the wind and the tide that even the locals are struggling with, so for visiting sailors to give themselves the best chance of mitigating home advantage then you need to be here often enough and for long enough to try and get to grips with it all. It’s a key part of our strategy to try and make sure that everyone does have adequate exposure to the racing and sailing in Guanabara Bay between now and the Games.
Throughout 2016 we’ll see the excitement levels start to build and that buzz around the Games will grow once more. I hope you’ll 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.
Nineteen nations won medals at the 2015 Olympic Test Event, 16 nations won medals in the Olympic Class World Championships. The differences between first and fourth in the Olympic Classes are smaller than they have ever been, but we will be ready for the fight and we will make the most of every moment between now and 8 August 2016 to try and ensure we play our part in another memorable Olympic and Paralympic Games for Team GB and ParalympicsGB.
On behalf of all the British Sailing Team sailors, coaches and staff, thank you for your continued support during 2015.