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Tokyo2020: Olympic lineup changes in US and Ireland as Tokyo looms

by Richard Gladwell 19 Sep 2019 16:45 PDT 20 September 2019
U.S. Men's Finn, Caleb Paine - Hempel World Cup Series Enoshima day 2 © Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

US Sailing, who will be host MNA for the 2028 Olympic Regatta, has lost two of it key personnel in the run-in to the 2020 Olympic Regatta in Tokyo.

On Monday October 16, US Sailing announced that its Chief Operating Officer for the Olympic team, Greg Fisher would be exiting the organisation. Three days later US Sailing announced that its Chief of Olympic Sailing, Malcolm Page would also be leaving at the end of October.

In a statement US Sailing announced: US Sailing and Malcolm Page, Chief of Olympic Sailing, announced that they have agreed to part ways. Page will be leaving US Sailing and returning to his home in Australia. He will be working with US Sailing Team staff and coaches on transition activities through the end of October, 2019.

US Sailing would like to thank Malcolm for his two and a half years of service to the organization and for his role in the preparation of the US Sailing Team for the 2020 Games. Malcolm played an integral role connecting the sailing public to the Team and Olympic sailing, and in fostering relationships around the industry to support our program and the athletes. As a respected sailing industry professional, we wish Malcolm the best in his future endeavors.

Moving forward, US Sailing will enhance our focus on athlete centric investment and resources in preparation for Tokyo 2020. Jack Gierhart, CEO of US Sailing, will be directing a strong and competent leadership team and staff at US Sailing to support the organization through this transition.

We will remain focused on the 2020 Games with unwavering commitment to the athletes and the Olympic Development Program, as well as the advancement of a long-term strategy and improved performance objectives that will support our 2024 and 2028 Olympic sailing goals and aspirations for success on the international stage.

Double Olympic Gold Medalist, and five times world champion in the 470 class, Page joined the organisation in January 2017 after heading up Media operations for World Sailing, then based in Southampton,UK. At that time USA had won only a single Bronze medal from two Olympiads.

Announcing Page's appointment in January 2017, US Sailing's statement said:

Page takes the reigns of a U.S. Olympic sailing program that has undergone significant changes in recent years, with increased resources directed towards both the national team and at reinvigorating US Sailing’s youth development effort. Guided by the Project Pipeline strategic initiative, US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program (ODP) was founded in 2015 and has already jumpstarted the performance sailing careers of hundreds of motivated American youth athletes. On the national team level, the US Sailing Team reached the podium in Rio 2016 with Caleb Paine’s bronze medal in the Finn Class, and qualified for six medal races in ten classes.

“The U.S. does not lack for sailing talent, and I have no doubt that we can and will compete with the best,” said Page. “Our challenge lies in finding enough resources and managing them well. I hate losing, and I want to give American athletes the chance to represent their country to the best of their abilities, as I was able to do in my own racing career.”

Speaking of his exit from USSailing, Page told leading US sailing correspondent, Bernie Wilson writing for the The Associated Press: "I came in with a strong vision and obviously I’m disappointed that I will not be around to see it through.”

“I think there have been some strong developments in this quadrennium and I guess I was excited for the athletes. The potential in this place is huge. I’ve always seen that. All the pieces of the puzzle are here.”

Page said part of his vision “was having a cultural shift. It’s what I would call winning spirit. I’m a big believer that you have to have that fighting spirit, that winning spirit, that desire to keep going. That will to push limits is a big thing. It needs to come from management, from coaching, from everything.”

Caleb Paine (USA) won a bronze medal in the Finn class at the 2016 Olympics, after placing 7th in the 2014 Finn Gold Cup, 12th in the 2015 event and but didn't compete in the 2016 World Championship. His bronze medal win was the only Olympic sailing medal won in two Olympiads by US sailors.

Paine said he hadn’t heard about Page’s ouster before being contacted by the AP for comment.

“I thought he was doing a great job and was doing everything possible to make the change,” Paine said from Newport, Rhode Island, where he’s training with American Magic, the New York Yacht Club’s America’s Cup team. “I’ll have to look more into this and get my head around this.”

For the full AP story click here

In the current Olympic cycle, US sailors' results in key Olympic regattas have been mixed. However the die for those results was already cast for 2020 at the time Page and Fisher joined the organisation. Most top countries work off a six year development cycle for an Olympic regatta, which includes attendance at one Olympic Regatta before there is any expectation of a medal-winning performance. Even amongst medal-potential competitors the conversion rate into Olympic medals is only about 50%.

The most serious issue facing the US is the development of the excellent US Youth talent, exemplified by US Sailing's team finishing in the top three in the Nations Cup at the Youth Worlds - largely recognised as a benchmark of the standard of incoming Olympic talent. The focus of the long term goals for US Sailing should be a performance to rival that of the 1984 Olympic Regatta, also at Long Beach Calif., where USA won seven medals in seven events, including three Gold medals.

That talent development process is fraught as a result of the wholesale change in the 2024 and 2028 Olympic event line-up where seven of the 10 Olympic classes/events were slated for review, requiring existing Youth progression paths to be significantly altered/destroyed. Further the changes will result in the elimination of the single event, the Finn class, where US has enjoyed recent Olympic success. The Event/Equipment changes can now only be overturned by a 75% vote majority by World Sailing's Council, and will effectively see male sailors weighing over 85kg excluded from Olympic competition.

In Ireland, it is reported that Annalise Murphy, 2016 Silver Medalist in the Laser Radial, womens singlehanded event, has flagged away her 2020 Olympic ambitions in the 49erFX class, after Ireland has failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, with one qualifying opportunity remaining.

The Irish Times reports that Murphy, who also competed in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race, has her eyes set on the Laser Radial class, in which Ireland has already qualified for Tokyo.

Murphy performed on of the great comebacks in sailing in the 2016 Olympics, when she won the Silver medal after finishing 44th in the 2016 World Championships. She narrowly missed medaling in the 2012 Olympics in the Laser Radial after she was the stand out competitor in the first half of the regatta at Weymouth, scoring four successive race wins, but was not so dominant in the second half of the regatta missing the Bronze medal by 4pts.

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