Please select your home edition
Edition
Naiad/Oracle Supplier

Sailing reaps benefits of winning culture

by Simon Barnes on 31 Aug 2004
The British boat skimmed sweetly over the finish — that’s what it’s like down at the sailing these days; another day, another medal.

Chris Draper’s response was unequivocal: a dirty great deck-busting, heel-bruising stamp. Disappointment seared him. The medal was bronze.

Draper and Simon Hiscocks sailed in third in the 49er class and no; they were not happy, not happy at all. ‘We’re a bit down,’ Hiscocks said. Draper added: ‘We came here to win the gold.’


And if all this seems a trifle ungracious, it is not. It is just a reflection of the high expectations and high achievements of Great Britain’s sailors.

They are the most successful Britain team at these Games, with two golds, one silver and two bronzes. The cyclists are the only threat, with an almost equally impressive tally of two golds, a silver and a bronze.

Britain will finish as the top nation in Olympic sailing, just as they did in Sydney four years ago.

In Barcelona in 1992, the sailors got one bronze; in Atlanta four years later, two silvers. There has, then, been a bit of a sea change in British sailing. The Brits have bossed the regatta here and although it was a frustrating day, it was also a day of high achievement, a day that confirmed the recent but dazzling tradition of excellence.

The 49ers are sweet boats to watch, keel-less little things that seem scarcely to touch the surface of the water while the two-man crew leaps around with athletic precision and hangs dizzyingly from the trapeze.

It was good to go to sea, an essential part of any visit to Greece, for the sea swirls and rolls throughout the history and mythology of this thrillingly ancient place.

The sea swayed, rolled and tossed them, all blue with white wings, as George Seferis wrote in one of his sea-washed poems. The white wings of the sails didn’t get much air to fill them, though; airs that were neither nipping nor eager.

The British boys sought the best breeze, fearful of finding that most dreaded of things on a light air day, ‘a hole in the wind’.

They duelled piratically with the boat from Ukraine, knowing that to beat them by more than one boat would take them to silver and make it a more satisfying day altogether.

But it was not to be. ‘It’s been a long four years,’ Draper said. ‘It takes up my life. This is what we do, this is what we will continue to do.’

And that is what the Britain sailing team will continue to do. The medal tally is final now but — by any reckoning — it has been a deeply satisfactory performance.

No sport can claim to have quite the same success at the tricky task of converting lottery money into medals; converting, if you like, national folly into national joy.

This is the Olympic value sport. The sudden surge to effectiveness has coincided with the lottery money — it began after the Games of 1996 — so much so that it looks as if the whole business is about throwing money at a problem.

Which is all very well, but how come all the other lottery-funded Olympic sports aren’t as successful as sailing?

The answer is, sailing people say, that the lottery money came at the right time to an organisation that was already well geared for producing elite performers and elite performances. Medals, in other words.

It is reckoned that, even without lottery money, Britain would be a top-three sailing nation in a competitive and widely contested sport — medals have been spread over more than 20 nations.

It comes to a culture. And a victorious culture cannot be established overnight. Or even in four years, as the Britain swimming team found out to their great distress.

Bill Sweetenham always said that the Athens Games were just a staging post; that his first four years as performance director were not enough.

He has consistently promised that we will see the fruits of a properly established winning culture in four years’ time, in Beijing.

Rod Carr, chairman of the Royal Yachting Association, said that British sailing now has ‘a really bloody strong culture’, but that it was ‘modest and understated’.

What is so intriguing about such a culture is the way it enshrines winning more or less in its constitution. It really is true that winning begets winning.

It is an infectious thing — one team member wins, the next one expects to, or at least is totally unsurprised to be in a winning position.

Victory of a teammate changes a competitor’s attitude about himself, about herself. Winning becomes unsurprising, perhaps even inevitable.

These five medals, including the two extra-shiny ones, come as a result of intelligent, thought-through planning.

You don’t spread the money out too thin so that everyone can have a go, not if your job is to seek Olympic medals.

But you don’t just bung all your money at a few individuals at the top; you plan deep and you plan long.

Five medals at the World Youth Championships bear that out very pleasantly.

There has been wailing and gnashing of British teeth at the swimming and, in athletics, an awful lot of tears.

But if any Brits are upset down at the sailing regatta, it is because a bronze is a disappointment.

‘We’ll be happy tomorrow,’ Hiscocks said.
Ancasta Ker 33 660x82Colligo Marine 660x82upffront 660x82

Related Articles

Superyacht Cygnus Montanus glides out of Auckland destined for Sweden
Cygnus Montanus is the first new build by Yachting Developments in four years. She departed New Zealand in July. Cygnus Montanus is the first new build by Yachting Developments in four years. After starting her design life as a cafe racer, for a Swedish owner, she became orientated more towards ocean passages. She is a step up in size from the owners' previous yacht, of the same name, a Swan 77. Built in West Auckland, the hull, spars and sails all came from companies just a few kilometres apart.
Posted on 31 Jul
ORC World Championship – Final race images by Max Ranchi
Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from final race Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from final race of 2016 ORC World Championships Copenhagen
Posted on 23 Jul
One day left to decide medal winners at ORC World Championship 2016
The high pressure system that has brought warm sunny conditions to Denmark this week did the same again today The high pressure system that has brought warm sunny conditions to Denmark this week did the same again today, but this time so effectively that it was doubtful any wind would be sufficiently strong and stable enough to race.
Posted on 22 Jul
ORC World Championship 2016 – Day four action shots by Max Ranchi
Photographer Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from day four Photographer Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from day four
Posted on 21 Jul
ORC World Championship 2016 – Day three action shots by Max Ranchi
Photographer Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from day three Photographer Max Ranchi has provided this gallery of images from day three
Posted on 20 Jul
One race and three new leaders today at ORC World Championship 2016
High pressure brought sunny weather, but also some long delays awaiting fitful seabreeze to fill enough to hold one race Besides producing results that show new teams for the top of the leaderboard, this was the fourth and final inshore race to the Qualifying Series in Classes A and B to determine the cut for the Gold Fleet - one more offshore race will determine who will be in the top half of each class and be eligible to race for these two World Champion crowns.
Posted on 20 Jul
Practice makes perfect?
There are a lot of us who try to get out on the water whenever we can. There are a lot of us who try to get out on the water whenever we can - be it a club race, a weekend open or a championship. The general feeling is that the more we sail, the better we get, but is that actually the case?
Posted on 27 May
Yacht Racing Forum announces partnership with sailing publications
The annual conference for the business of yacht racing announced that 15th media partnership agreements have been signed The leading annual conference for the business of yacht racing is pleased to announce that fifteen media partnership agreements have been signed with leading international sailing publications spanning nine countries and four continents.
Posted on 25 May
A New Year and three new ORC Championship events
The 2016 New Year brings new opportunities to race in three major ORC championship events being held later this year. The 2016 New Year brings new opportunities to race in three major ORC championship events being held later this year in Italy, Greece and Denmark.
Posted on 5 Jan
The Tour de France à la voile 2016 – Revitalised + Video
Tour de France à la Voile 2016 was presented today. The event is looking strong ahead of the second edition The Tour de France à la Voile 2016 was presented today at Paris Boat Show. The event is looking strong ahead of the second edition to be sailed on Diam 24 boats. Entries have been open for only a month and 31 teams have already announced their participation. Several more teams are keen to join while looking to complete their budget.
Posted on 6 Dec 2015