In an interview on Sailors Radio yesterday, Yachting Australia Olympic Head Coach and 470 coach, Victor Kovalenko said the Australian Olympic sailing team in Athens was under funded, being the major contributor to our lack of medals.
Kovalenko also stated he would stand down as the 470 coach and concentrate solely on the Head Coach role, conceding that one man could not do both jobs. ‘Towards Beijing I have made already my decision to be just Head Coach. I want to bring all my experience to my coaches and to my sailors. I want to beat the British and to be World Number One.
The time was the problem. At one stage before Athens, I said it's not possible to do both head coach and class coach.
Asked if his dual role affected the results, Kovalenko said he thought not. 'They (Yachting Australia) said 'No, no. No worries, we will give you all the support you need and we will help, just do it.'
He did say, however, that the Australian team would have benefited more had the roles been separate and had they been able to have a European base where all the Grade 1 competition is and where our team could have acclimatized to local conditions.
Kovalenko denied our sailors were not much chop in light air, but mostly, the results speak for themselves.
‘The fact we did not get medals was more about the big shifts, not the light wind, but we are already working with the Asians to set up a camp somewhere in Asia and do a lot of training there, which will be just like the light wind in Beijing’ (the next Olympic venue), he said.
‘We are looking for places in Australia where you get light shifty winds,’ Kovalenko said. Both Connells Point in Sydney and Hamilton Island in Queensland were suggested by former Olympian, Nev Wittey!
‘I am not underpaid, I am paid enough for my job, but our sailors need a lot more money, it is very expensive,’ Kovalenko commented when comparisons were made between the extremely well-funded well-medalled British team (purportedly ₤60,000 each) and the Australians.
Finn sailor, Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter, who finished with a credible sixth place (a personal best) in Athens, agreed. He said his campaign had cost a minimum of $300,000 over a one year period.
Nocka leaves Australia in ten days time to join a number of other Finn sailors, including Great Britain’s Gold medal winner, Ben Ainslie, Spanish Silver medallist Rafael Trujillo and Czechoslovakian, Michael Maier at the +39 Challenge, one of two Italian America’s Cup Challengers, for a first training session in Palermo (Sicily). He has not ruled out another Olympic campaign. Hopefully, his A.C. exploits will cover his next Olympic bills.
John Forbes, six-time World champion in the Tornado class, who did have good sponsorship at least, has his own view.
‘Whilst I would have liked to completed my Olympic medal collection with a Gold, to accompany my Barcelona Bronze and Sydney Silver, the wind Gods didn't blow our way and Darren and I ended up 6th overall.
I am very happy with our result, as going into the last day Darren and I still had a chance of getting on the podium and we ‘went for broke’. It wasn't to be, but I was still not upset with our performance.
We did the best we could under the circumstances delivered out to us and will cherish this Olympic experience, along with all the past Olympics I have been fortunate enough to have attended.
Our preparations for the Olympics were THE BEST. We had generous sponsors (including Subaru) and support which gave us the best boat with the best coach (Mike Fletcher) and the best equipment.
We had the best sails (Dacron!!) which proved on the fair and/or windy days to be the best (two 1st, a 2nd, a 3rd and a 4th). We had the best training partners (Germany and Greece) who are our friends for life.
We had the best trailer (with new nose cone), the best Subaru cars, the best accommodation. We had the best product (the Tornado) which gave us the most fun. We even had the best competitors.
For nine years Darren and I have had the best results of any team from any country from any class - bar none - we have won more National, European and World Championships and more podium finishes and accolades than we could ever have hoped for.
If I was to continue to Beijing (Forbes has retired from elite sailing) for 2008 I wouldn't change our campaign style one bit,’ he said.
Many sailors worldwide are already complaining about the Beijing venue, due to its very light winds. Unfortunately, when venues are being decided, selectors are not focussing on sailing conditions.
For first time Olympian Sarah Blanck, who scored our best result, finishing fourth and missing Bronze by just one point, her lack of medal came down to a couple things.
The lone Victorian in the team and 2002 Europe World Champion said on her return to Sydney, ‘I was going great and feeling pretty good.
I was out in front and feeling alright and then it hit me where I was – in first place at my first Olympics and I choked a bit. Now I am back and thinking a little more clearly, I think I might like to have another go, because I will know more what to expect next time.
Her coach, Erik Stibbe, did admit during the Games that on one day, when Blanck fell back to 11th from sixth on the second run after the breeze dropped and the race committee displayed the yellow flag (which means competitors can rock, roll and pump without penalty), ‘she didn’t use the right technique to keep the boat moving.’
Others too, looked good until the very light breezes kicked in; their results going from seconds and thirds down to 18th place and worse.
Jessica Crisp, the Womens Mistral Sailboard sailor, specialises in light air, but was outclassed by better sailors on the day. She finished in sixth place – a great result, especially when you look at what happened to others cited as ‘definite medal contenders’, in hers and other classes.
Whatever your opinion, Australia did not do badly. Apart from Blanck’s solid fourth, three others finished sixth and one each at seventh, eighth and ninth.
The Australian sailing community and some of the sailors themselves did expect medals, even a couple of Gold’s, but it was not to be.
The Olympic Games are a very different arena to all other competition, including World Championships; it affects people in different ways. Having said that, all those sailors who won Gold are good long term solid all-round top two sailors at any event, deserving of their medals.
Australia is a windy nation, our sailors need to practice in all conditions and to do that and perform to their optimum, they need money and choice of coach.
Some of our Olympians are still berating themselves for what they considered lack of their best performances and most are very disappointed with their outcome. However, all of them, without a doubt, fought hard to get to those Games and all did their best in Athens. We should be proud of their efforts.