Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn exemplify Canada’s Own the Podium program, which was implemented following the 2006 Winter Olympics. They have been on the podium in five back-to-back regattas (Levin Memorial, Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, Key West Race Week, Miami Olympic Classes Regatta and Pineapple Cup) over the past 40 days.
During the 2010 Winter Games, Canada had its largest medal haul ever and broke a record for the most gold medals won by a country at the Winter Olympics. Canada’s medal count at the Summer Games rebounded in 2008 also.
Clarke and Bjorn had their start independently by earning their way on to Canada’s national team in 2009. CYA (Canadian Yachting Association) supported their effort to sail in the 2009 Star North American Championship, where the fledgling team finished second overall. Convinced of their medal potential, CYA signaled the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Clarke and Bjorn joined the rarified list of Canadian medal contenders in the Own the Podium program.
Said Bjorn, 'Providing us with Steve Mitchell (past Star World Champion and Olympian) as a coach has been the biggest assistance. He is making a huge impact on the entire program. We feel blessed to have him because we don’t know of anybody who could do such a great job. He’s always there for us and no job is too small.'
The Clarke/Bjorn Sailing Team’s string of superb results during 2010 included wining the Star Western Hemispheres and taking the bronze at the Star Europeans. 'We keep getting results and we keep getting more support in every way. It’s a good feeling, and we have happy sponsors,' said Bjorn who just added Reebok to his list of plumb sponsors, which include Kaenon Polarized, Yale Cordage, Magic Marine, CYA and Wind Athletes Canada.
The team’s commitments don’t start and end with their performance in the Olympic Star class. Both Clarke and Bjorn are married and have families, mortgages and other obligations. They’d be living large if they were single and in their early 20’s. Instead, they are professional sailors and make ends meet by being involved with multiple campaigns. While other Olympic Star sailors will approach 300 days of Star sailing, the Clarke/Bjorn Sailing Team will be lucky to spend slightly over 100 days in the Star. The balance will be in their four other big boat programs.
'There’s a lot of pressure to do things traditionally,' said Clarke. 'We have bills to pay and can’t sacrifice our lifestyles. We have a different plan and we’re following the plan.'
This year’s program is heavily loaded with big boat sailing in the early part of the year and backend loaded with Star sailing. 'It dilutes the individual programs, but it keeps us tactically and strategically focused,' said Clarke, who won’t be sailing the second half of the Star Bacardi Cup because he has a more pressing sailing engagement.
As December and Perth 2011 approach, the Clarke/Bjorn Sailing Team will make up for lost time in the Star and spend at least ten days per month in the Star. 'Historically, we’ve never finished out of the top ten countries,' noted Clarke. While they have to perform during the regatta, they don’t have to own the podium. That can wait until the Olympics.
Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn sporting their sponsors’ gear. - Own the Podium - Lynn Fitzpatrick