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Team GBR’s Sparky on the Road to Rio (Part Two)

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World Team on 24 Apr 2014
Nick Dempsey (GBR) competing in the London Olympics 2012 onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
GBR Team Manager Stephen Park has led Great Britain’s Sailing Team in the Olympic and Paralympic Classes – to great success on the world stage over the last 13 years.

Under his stewardship Great Britain has become the most successful Olympic classes sailing nation.


Stephen, known as ‘Sparky’ has steered the team towards some outstanding performances from Team GB’s sailors. At the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, they won five medals, then Beijing Games where Britain’s sailors won six medals, including four Gold’s, and achieved their best Olympic medal haul in 100 years.

While Australia won three Gold Medals and One Silver media at London 2012, the overall British medal count was still greater with one Gold and four Silver.

Since then Britain, with considerable depth in its classes has continued to lead the overall medal count at the European World Cup events and they remain the bench mark squad as sailors’ campaign towards Rio.

Sail-World talked to Sparky yesterday at the 2014 Sailing World Cup in Hyeres. Here is the second part of that interview.

The ISAF Sailing World Cup venues are being re-examined.


Weymouth is not currently in the roster but is it likely to put its hand up?

I think it depends on what and how the proposal for the World Cup will eventually run as to whether that is something the UK would bid for but certainly I wouldn’t write it off. I think that I believe Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is probably one of the best suited venues in Europe, both from a sailing perspective and an infrastructure perspective to run an event the size and scale of a world cup and potentially some of the events that you would have on the run into that.

It’s a fantastic location and there is a desire in the UK, at a political level, to try and support as many major sporting events that they can off the back of the London 2012. Hopefully if it looked like it was going to be possible then we would be supported by the government agencies in terms of getting some financial support to be able to bid and ultimately that’s pretty keep as obviously it is expensive to run an event. It would be great for the country to do that and from my perspective on an Olympic team side the key thing, I think it is a cracking venue. It is a venue you could create a good infrastructure. You could have one central base and you get really high quality sailing.

A World Cup event provides an avenue for your development squads, does that make a local event more desirable?

It is still for us one of the key motivators to do that it fi you can have a high quality regatta close to home then there is an opportunity for you to blood some of those young sailors. To give them an experience of high quality racing that doesn’t involve them having to travel significant distances to get that opportunity. That’s still a big reason why we would want to be involved for sure.

The new Head of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, John Craig has a lot to do?

I have known John Craig for a long time and I think he is a great appointment from an ISAF perspective and with that appointment the ISAF President has made very clear his wish to make sure that something happens with the World Cup.

Clearly in appointing John he is trying to make sure he has got some people in place to try and make some of that happen and I think that is great. Hopefully the President will also make sure that he has the autonomy to actually be able to go on to make it happen because quite often that has been the charge, the challenge. I certainly think he has got the skills to do so if he has got the autonomy and he get a little bit of support from the teams to get it over the first few hurdles which will be fairly tough I think.

For me the key factor is about trying to make the circuit as a whole, the World Cup as a whole, have a real purpose and a real value and I think as soon as you do that you will create demand because it will be aspirational. When you have got an number of individual events that don’t necessarily add up to anything that matters so much for the majority of the sailors and that the number of entries are affectively open then I don’t think you created the same levels of aspirations, the same level of desire as you would for something a little bit more exclusive and ultimately has a real raison d’être.


A point would be where is your very good Finn Squad right now and why?

They are in La Rochelle training because that’s where their next major event is, the Finn Europeans.

That’s a funding event and this World Cup is not. Not in the same way. That’s the key issue that you focus your plan and the events you want to deliver at and the World Cup events generally provide a great opportunity of testing your progress against the world’s best competition but when you turn up you never actually know whether the best competition are going to be there or not because there is no reason necessarily for them all to come and compete. If you are a Finn sailor coming because you thought you were going to have three or four top ten British Finn sailors to race against this week here in Hyeres clearly you are going to be disappointment because they are not here.

So that’s a challenge and I think that is a challenge that we need to try and get over in the sport. In terms of sailing the sport, as everyone has said a million times it is about trying to build on the profiles of our top sailors and recognise the achievements of the top sailors and if we compare our sports to other sports when you go to a Grand Prix tennis meet or a Formula 1 motor racing meet, in any of those top sports, you know who the top athletes are going to be that are taking part and they would be at all those top events unless they were injured and that would be well documented that the reason they weren’t coming because they were injured because it would be a stand out that they are not there. In sailing we don’t yet have that but I think that will come.

I get a view amongst the team managers and coaches that there is a desire for that to be the case and certainly amongst the sailors because I think it helps by doing that will help build the profile and help give the top sailors some of the recognition that they deserve for the efforts that they make year in year out. In a sport that is highly competitive, has a huge number of nations taking part and comes down to the individual athletes beating each other as a result of their own actions. I think sometimes by comparison to other sports our sport is under sold in that regard.


It was pretty heartening to have a sailor being the first person to take the Olympic torch on British soil?

Yes and the likes of Ben Ainslie in the UK has certainly begun to turn the tide of recognising that challenge. It is still difficult for people outside the sport. Just this morning I was reading a bit of a book, written by a cyclist who does some sailing and he was talking about some sailing he had been doing and the difficulty he was having with the wind shifts and he then referred to Ben saying that people outside the sport don’t realise that those sailors that are able to do that with consistency how big a deal that actually is as opposed to a single discipline more physical sport that is more linear in its performance, training and performance out. It is clear there are far more variables, far more aspects to our sport and there is a physical aspect, there is a technical aspect, there is a cognitive aspect and to win with any degree of consistency across a number of venues, across a number of races you need to be able to put all of those things together and you need to be able to do it consistently and you need to be able to do it under pressure and there aren’t very many people that can do that.


It was a pleasure listening to and watching Ben and Tom Slingsby working together on the back of the Oracle AC72.

It was fantastic wasn’t it? To see those guys coming together and actually to see how quickly they were able to come together. How quickly they were able to gel. Almost the minimal level of communication that was required for them to know what was happening. Part of that also comes also comes just from amongst the top sailors in all our Olympic fleets the respect they hold their competitors in. It is so much more competitive than it has been in the past. You need to put in a lot of effort, a lot of hard yards to get yourself in the top ten in any of our Olympic class fleets now. When you can get some of those sailors out and sailing together in some other projects that we tend to see success and tends not to matter whether they are form one country or mixed countries. The example in Oracle for the America’s Cup was pretty impressive.


The belief is that the GBR squad are going to have more time in Rio than anybody else. Do you agree?

We may or we may not have more time than anybody else but I don’t think it is budget related. I think that decision will be the decision we will make the same as all the other teams will have to make for the resource you have got, where are you going to spend it. As it happens I think that we are probably fourth or fifth in terms of the actual amount of money available in the program but I don’t think it is a big deal. Probably those top six nations are within 10%. We have got a lot of sailors so that dilutes some of our efforts and that’s a challenge for us but as with all the other nations it will be important for us to spend some reasonable time in Rio.

It will be a tricky Olympic venue for sure. It is in a venue that a lot of our sailors have not spent a lot of time in. It will be important for sailors to spend some time in Rio to get to know the venue. I am sure when we actually get right down to the business end of the competition in August 2016 all of those sailors that are in the medal races will have spent a relatively similar amount of time.

The people that win the medals that will make the right decisions on the right day. It’s about the time on the venue is probably giving yourself the confidence to get yourself into a position where you have an opportunity to make some decisions that are going to result in you winning a medal when you get to that last day.

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