Britain is going into London 2012 with the strongest sailing team it has ever had – that is the opinion of RYA Olympic Manager, Stephen ‘Sparky’ Park.
Sixteen sailors across 10 Olympic Classes will begin their bid to try to help TeamGB retain its crown as the World’s top sailing nation for the fourth successive Games, when the 2012 Olympic Regatta gets underway at Weymouth and Portland on Sunday (29 July).
© RYA: Stephen Park reckons the 2012 Brits are the best ever
Britain has won 16 medals – nine golds, four silvers and three bronze – at the past three Games in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. Britain’s gold medal haul accounts for more than quarter of all sailing gold medals available to win during that time (27%), an astonishing record given that each country can only enter one boat per class (or event).
Inevitably much of the focus in the build-up to London 2012 has been on leading man, Ben Ainslie, in the Finn class who is going for his fourth gold and fifth Olympic medal in total. Victory this summer would make Ainslie the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, eclipsing the four golds won by the great Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom from 1948-1960.
But Park believes that by the time the regatta comes to a close after 14 days of racing in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour, it won’t just be Ainslie who is making the headlines.
He said: “Without a shadow of a doubt we have the strongest team we've ever had at an Olympic Games. I think we’re in a better place than we’ve been in terms of potential medal winners than any recent Games in modern time but I’ve got no doubt there are more serious competing sailors and teams as a whole than we’ve ever seen before.
“The margins between first and fourth are smaller but equally we have more people who find themselves in that bracket and are realistic medal potential than ever before. That keeps our opportunities high but more than ever you need those opportunities to be high because with the additional challenges of the pressure and the expectation that will be on the shoulders of all the members of the team, that will again make it a tough environment.
“As long as we’re prepared for it, and the sailors are able to focus on the things they know they can do well on the water, then there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to deliver some good results.”
Britain’s official London 2012 target is four medals of any colour. But while Park concedes “it is a possibility” that the British sailors could win a medal in every class at these Olympics he also stressed it is “extremely unlikely”.
“The environment we are working in now is extremely professional from all nations,” he continued. “We know there will be some sailors for whom things will not go to plan. That’s just the nature of the Olympic Games.
“Historically I like to work on a basis of 50% conversion rate of hopes to medals. Our official target is four, if you went with my rule of thumb that would give us five. We’ve got 10 realistic medal opportunities; it could be more if we have a really good regatta. I’m cautiously optimistic but I really do think we could have a good Games.”
Three boats will be looking to successfully defend their Beijing 2008 titles in Weymouth and Portland – Ainslie in the Finn heavyweight dinghy class, Paul Goodison in the one-man Laser dinghy class and Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the two-man keelboat Star class. No fewer than seven sailors will be making their Olympic debut.
The Olympic Regatta kicks off with the Finn, Star and Women’s Match Racing classes on Sunday. The 470 Women are the last class to get underway starting on Friday (3 August). The showdown medal races begin on Sunday 5 August while the regatta will come to a close with the final of the Women’s Match Racing on Saturday 11 August.
To follow the fortunes of the British sailing team at London 2012 visit www.rya.org.uk/london2012