Probably the most successful Olympic class sailing programs over the last few decades is the Australian 470 program, with five Gold Medal Teams since 2000.
ISAF Sailing World Cup, Melbourne Day 5 Crawford Brothers M470
Under Uber coaches Victor Kovalenko, a feature of the program has been long range succession planning with Olympic training partners stepping up in following years.
When Malcolm Page and Nathan Wilmot won 470 Gold in Qingdao and Wilmot retired, training partner skipper Matt Belcher stepped into his shoes and that duo took Gold in Weymouth. When Page retired after London 2012, training partner crew Will Ryan took his place and Belcher and Ryan have dominated the scene since.
So it’s interesting to look at the role of training partners under Kovalenko.
Mat Belcher, the 2012 470 Olympic Gold Medallist explains just what is involved when he talked today about the second Australian team in the Mallorca field.
'For Matt and Robert Crawford to be here with us it means a lot and obviously they enjoy it. We enjoy it. We have all been sailing together for the last two years now and before as well. We are really fortunate to have guys like them who are dedicated and committed. It’s not easy when the guy you are training with is world number one and they are pushing themselves a lot and pushing us a lot.
'They are helping us and they are coming to the events. They are really doing the work and to have guys like that yields big benefits in the Australian program.
It’s exactly what I did with my brother before Beijing 2008 with Wilmot and Page. I don’t think people quite realise what is involved when we are campaigning in Europe and around the world out of Australia. It’s not like we are just coming from down the road and it’s a big effort. It is a lot of time away, a lot of commitment. At that age there is university studies and relationships, there are a lot of other things that are temptations for them yet they are here and they are putting the work in and they have committed. Last year they did a full season. Angus Galloway and Tim Hanna did the same last year.'
22 year old Robert Crawford adds his thoughts. 'It has worked for Australia, very well with Victor and Mat and Will now we are working together trying to get for the future. Now with Matt and the America’s Cup stuff it is kind of a clear progression.
'It’s great to have Mat leading us. It’s good to have him in the class so we can learn off him and develop our skills so the longer he stays in the class the more we learn and we are not here to fight them we are here to Australia top the rest of the world. We want Australia to be number one in the world not fighting each other.
'All our training is done with Victor and Mat and Will, we have training camps in Sydney and on the Queensland Gold Coast, and then here we have had a couple of days before the regatta, preparing our boats. They have got a new boat, trying to get it up to speed and trying to keep us up to speed. Using the big fleets that we have got here in our practice, trying to get back into big fleet sailing after being in Australia for six months. It is good to get back with internationals and see where we are.
'Our first target here is Gold fleet for a start and then we would like to see if we can get into the top 20. We will see how we go. Just really trying to develop our skills for Santander in September. That’s our main aim.
'Ahead of that we are doing Hyeres and then we come back up for probably Europeans in Kiel and hopefully go to Rio and be with these guys for the Rio Test event and the Santander.
'We had a really good year at the end of last year’s our Europeans and the Worlds are really good. We had a bit of a not so good season, summer season in Australia so we are get back to Europe and show where we are in the world. Hopefully we have improved again and stepped up from the Worlds last year.
'We are spending a fair bit of time at the moment on the water. We will go from here and then have a couple of days off and then straight into trying in Hyeres and then we will go home in May and have a block in Sydney doing drills and stuff and then we will come back ready for the Europeans and we will do a bit of training in Santander before the Rio test event.
'It is an awesome experience sailing with the best sailors in the world and we are trying to learn off everything they do on the water, off the water, everywhere they are trying to understand what they are doing and see what we can learn.
'Younger brother, helm 20 year old Matt Crawford chimed in. 'It is a challenging task trying to keep up with them but it is a great experience for us, we are one of the very lucky few that get the chance.‘
So between the various Australian training teams Victor builds a strong team for the future.