Australia is amongst the top sailing nations and expectations are high 'down under'. Behind Swimming, Sailing provided the equal second most successful Australian sporting team at the 2008 Olympics.
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page at the Skandia Sail for Gold 2011 in Weymouth
Sail-World provides an insight on how the team is travelling as London 2012 approaches.
In May 2009 Yachting Australia appointed Peter Conde as High Performance Director, to lead the Australian Sailing Team and the supporting high performance programs.
An accomplished sailor with podium finishes in Etchells (there is even a sail named after him, the PC) and Laser World Championships and the architect of Yachting Australia's Gold Medal Plan (which led to the formation of the Australian Sailing Team) Conde brought a wealth of experience to the organisation.
At the time of his appointment Conde said 'The Australian Sailing Team's success in China and its status as AIS Program of the Year is a measure of what a great platform we have for the future, thanks to the work of the Team over the past three years.'
'I am proud of my involvement in designing the program and we now face a huge challenge to deliver gold medal performances at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and to build an even stronger base for the longer term future of High Performance sailing in Australia.'
There has been some excellent performances amongst the potential Australian Olympians for the 2012 event in Weymouth, but in some classes particularly Womens Match Racing, there is puzzlement amongst the wider sailing community about what is happening.
Sail-World has interviewed the High Performance Director Peter Conde to shine some light on what the thinking is in the Australian camp.
Here is part one of our two part series.
‘There is still a whole year until the 2012 Olympics and a lot will happen between now and then. It’s a quarter of the way through the lead up. There is certainly not much time really for sleeping, that's for sure.
‘We have a selection panel process that's in place and for most classes that will make Olympic team selections after the 2011 ISAF Worlds in Perth, later this year.
‘Tom Slingsby, (Laser) Nathan Outteridge, Iain Jensen, (49er) Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page (470 Mens) have put in benchmark performances that are going to stand them in a really strong position and it will be tough for anybody to overtake them.
‘I think clearly Women’s Match Racing is a tough one as it is a new event so the competitive landscape is changing very rapidly. While we have had some early successes it is only more recent results that really reflect the standards in that competition and it is a bit unclear, being it’s first Olympics, how that is going to pan out even over the next twelve months. I expect there to be more change over the next twelve months, than in any other class.
‘It is different - at least for a couple of reasons. One is that the competitive landscape is changing quite quickly and the other is, that unlike other classes we are used to where you can have multiple entries and we often do have many entries in a World Cup major event, we usually only get one or two (entries) in a Match Race so you have to run a different set of processes.
‘Nicky Souter has just competed in the Match Cup Sweden, after competing in Sail for Gold. She and Katie Spithill have both been campaigning since the beginning of the Olympic quadrant. I think it is fair to say that if you look at our World Cup results, which are our benchmark, we didn’t feel like we were on track for a medal winning performances over the last twelve months.
‘Up to now we have seen a lot of different combinations. What you will see, certainly in our program from this point on, is very settled combination.
‘We have been trying to balance the process of identifying the right sailors and the right combinations with allowing enough time for those combinations to perform and build the understanding that's required.
'We have now conducted a squad process that's involved locating our athletes through combinations. I think it has successfully identified three or four athletes whom I think will be great athletes in our high performance program, not just in Women’s Match Racing, but in other classes beyond 2012.
‘The squad process was used successfully by the Dutch in the Yngling campaign, although they carried that rotation all the way through to the Games. We don’t intend to do that.
'We have brought some pretty good minds and a lot of experience to a selection panel to work through this, John Bertrand and Victor Kovalenko have lent their expertise to assist me in this process. That process of rotation will now cease.
‘Again, it will be the same selection panel making that choice. If you look back at our performances over the last twelve months, with one exception, the performances have rarely been inside the top eight at World Cups.
‘It created a situation where Olivia Price has emerged as a promising new skipper and in combination with Nina Curtis, she certainly has demonstrated rapid improvement far beyond what would normally be expected in such top level competition, culminating in a bronze medal at Kiel after just a few weeks as skipper. With Lucinda Whitty now joining them and Nicky forming her crew, Nicky has consistently outperformed Katy (Spithill) in competition and squad races so I think these combinations give us exciting options.
‘The combinations of athletes have been put together by the selection panel and I think that you will see that Nicky sailed with her preferred combination at every World Cup over a one year period, other than one, and they really didn’t perform. They had results of 7, 9 then they had a win and then they had 8, 10, 16 and 8. That's not on track for a medal and you can do so much and put combinations together but at the end of the day it is up to the athletes to perform in them.
‘Because we only have a limited number of entries Katie Spithill won’t be in the program as a skipper. Watch this space... I think you will see her in a different role.
‘The next event where Nicky and Olivia could be competing against each other is at the Buddy Melges challenge in Sheboygan in the USA in September and then the ISAF Worlds in Perth.’
‘In the Finn Class, Brendan Casey is doing best. We have some up and comers there but I don’t see anyone who is likely to knock Brendan off, which will be great for him. He is putting in a really fantastic effort in this campaign and he does deserve it, if he is selected.
‘In the Women’s Sailboard RS:X Jessica Crisp has also put in a benchmark performance in the most recent World Cup. She has got Allison Shreeve chasing her and Allison does particularly well when there is breeze around. But Jess is also putting in really quite a strong performance.
In part two in this series Peter Conde will talk about the 470 Women’s, Star, RS:X Men, Laser Radial, and the Brits