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British Olympic success just not all about money

by Richard Gladwell on 23 Sep 2008
Iain Percy and Andrew "Bart" Simpson. Percy was one of several in the core GBR team who had medalled at previous Olympics © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz

Many are quick to assert that the British record of being the top nation for the past three Olympics is just about spending money - and lots of it.

To find out the reasons behind the British success, Sail-World's Olympic Editor, Richard Gladwell spoke to Rob Andrews, 1992 British Olympic coach and now Competition Manager for the 2012 Olympic Regatta at Weymouth,

'The sailors aren’t fully funded' says Andrews, popping our first misconception. 'At the core of it is the number of clubs in the UK. It is pretty easy to go sailing.

'I think back to the 470 Worlds over 24 years ago – we have finished up with a system that you had in New Zealand. We came to a 470 Worlds in Takapuna in 1984, and halfway through the regatta there were four Kiwis in the top ten.

'We understood that had come about because you had talented sailors, living in the same place and all sailing against each other a lot of the time, in the evenings and so on. The whole thing just ratchets up.

'In 1996 we were lucky enough to win a silver in the 470 (John Merricks and Ian Walker) and Ben Ainslie, as a 19yr old, won silver in the Laser. We took that team into 2000, and after the 1996 Olympics , the lottery funding came in because Britain only won one Gold medal in all of its sports.

'When the Lottery funding came in, where the sailors used to wonder about how they would pay for some rig development, the money was there to pay for it, and they could just get on with the sailing instead of having to worry about how much debt they were in all the time.

'If you look at Sydney, Shirley Robertson was fourth in Atlanta, and won a Gold medal in Sydney. Ben Ainslie had a silver from Atlanta, and won a Gold medal in Sydney. Ian Walker (silver medallist from Atlanta) teamed up with Mark Covell to win Silver medal in the Star (after John Merricks (470) and Glyn Charles (Star) both died).

'Britain has always had a very strong dinghy heritage and when the 49er came out British sailors just loved it. Out of that came all the smaller skiff type classes, some of them not full-on skiffs but it was still that asymmetric style of sailing and the kids just loved it, so they just stayed out longer sailing because they loved it, rather than some of the more conventional dinghies.

'Iain Percy won a Gold (in the Finn) and he had been going to University. The system doesn’t try to take you away from education, it tries to balance it with education. There we were in Sydney with good funding and the core team from Savannah and the whole thing is a bit of a snowball. Everyone’s expectations start lifting.

'It was just like for your 470 sailors in Takapuna – unless they were world champions, they weren’t even on the map. And that has been the quantum change in the UK, I think.'

To be continued - next we look at the sailing career conflict between the Olympics and the America's Cup.

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