Brit 49er Battle for London Epic in So Many Ways
With just 100 days until the Olympics in Weymouth, many teams haven’t yet selected who will go to the games. In a bit departure from previous games, this list includes iconic team GBR, and here’s why.
First the history. The British 49er squad has been a world leader since the 49er came into the Games in Sydney 2000 and a Silver medal was taken home by Barker and Hiscocks. That year they beat out laser 5000 and 505 teams who quickly transitioned to 49ers including the Budgen Brothers.
4 years later the battle for Athens was tight at the top with 3 teams in the top 10. The Alistair Richardson / Pete Greenlaugh and Paul Brotherton / Mark Asquith teams lost out to Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, who ultimately won the Bronze. The successful mixing and matching that brought Draper out of the development squad to team up with Hiscocks while Asquith teamed with Brotherton was to become a hallmark of the Brit squad.
For 2008, Simon and Chris stayed together innovating within the skiff game. Asquith teamed up with Paul CJ, Brotherton coached the Ynglings to gold, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes moved into the top ranks and ultimately won the Brit spot with a timely win at the 2007 worlds. In parrallel, a development team was always rolling just behind the top guys and spitting teams out to the front of the pack.
Fast forward to 2009, and the squad was 8 deep, placing 6 in the top 13 at worlds and they could all compete for a medal at any given event. Lead by their coaches Barker and Harvey Hillary, himself a top 49er crew at one point, the team wasn’t winning all of the events and a change came. I’m not sure the exact details here in blogoland, but the list of teams was culled by choice or otherwise. Brotherton, CJ, and Draper all moved on from 49er sailing and are now dominating most of the up and coming sailing series in the world. Paul CJ won the Xtreme Sailing Series and Draper just won the Naples AC after turning the fleet upside down last year in Plymouth with Team Korea. Asquith is coaching, Alistair in in AC, and these guys are leading the world outside of Olympic land.
So enough with the name dropping… the point is, that with those not sailing dominating the pro ranks, just how good are those who won out to stay in the Olympic game?
Back at the front end of Olympic Sailing, the brits still have 4 contenders gunning it out for the single Olympic spot. With no team able to consistently stand out this quad like Nathan Outteridge has. I’m not sure how the British selection squad will determine who goes, but the sailors believe it has everything to do with these next few months of sailing, and especially the Sail for Gold regatta.
Remaining teams are:
What will be the deciding factor for the selectors? All indication are that the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta is turning out to be THE event. It’s become so much the focus that that these teams are not even attending the 2012 World Championships in Croatia. This in itself is a curious decision as seen from the outside. For both the 2004 and 2008 quads it was decisive wins in World Championships that ultimately tipped the scales for Brit Olympic selection.
Three things jump to mind about why this is going on in GBR land.
a) Sqad Training in Weymouth – The squad mentality is stronger than ever. Even though squads were strong prior to the 2012 quad, top teams would break away to compete against each other at crunch time using private coaches and foreign training groups. We haven’t seen that this quad, with even big Ben sticking mostly to his Finn crew and the 49er squad continuing to stay close. So with no standout crew, it seems the selectors have said lets keep this squad togther, have them working overtime (no doubt with all sorts of Advanced Analytics including) in the Olympic site and see if the pressure cooker environment used so effectively by Denmark’s 49ers last quad will be better than the double peak theory pushing so many to early selection now. As with fellow brit Dempsey, the brits are decending on Weymouth for the long haul of training, hoping that increasing venue knowledge will pay at the games.
b) Perpetual Events Trump One-Off Events – Sail 4 Gold is bigger now than any other event. My second theory is that S4Gold is just so big, and so good now, that it out duels any class run, one-off, world Championships. ISAF have been pushing hard to eliminate these World Championships from Olympic classes with the class associations pushing back hard mostly due to finances. One thing is a certainty, and that is that one-off championships are a mixed bag. The 49ers have had some legendary events, with Brest and Lake Garda topping the list while Moscow and Aix-Les-Bains being quite poor. Now I personally expect the Croatia world to be a great event, as the Europeans they held for us a few years back was fantastic, but is a one-off event the type Brit selectors are willing to use for their team… I guess not.
c) Has sailing in Britain reached a tipping point where considerations are being made for media and the public? There has been a ton invested Sail for Gold as an event, but nowhere in the world of Olympic sailing would media be a consideration in choosing events… but maybe it is now. With a tight battle in the premier sailing class going down to the wire, maybe holding the selection event on home soil is being used as a catalyst to get the cameras pointed toward Weymouth even more?
These next 4 months are as intense as sailing can get for Olympic teams. Most teams quads will end in disappointment, as there are only 3 medals available and deep field chasing… but the journey these 4 Brit teams are on right now is a unique one, and one where they have already beaten out some of the very best. Good luck to them all, the world is watching.
Post Script: Well, so much for logic and reasoning. Seems the RYA got cold feet on this one. After holding back their teams from competing in the 49er World Championships, they turned the tables and just released the team. Stevie and Ben will be going back to the Olympics. Lets hope these old men in a room do better at making decisions than some others…