CEN­TER OF EF­FORT

If a year-round, full-com­ple­ment train­ing base and “home” can pro­duce medals for Olympic ski­ing, what might the same do for Olympic sail­ing? Can you say “cul­tural shift”?

Sailing World - - Contents -

A year-round full-com­ple­ment train­ing base may well be the shift U.S. Olympic sail­ing des­per­ately needs.

Q In 10 years, only 10 years, the Olympics re­turn to Los An­ge­les. If it’s your job to put the United States on top in medals won, that might be the right amount of time. Thirty- four years ago, at Los An­ge­les, Amer­i­can sailors medaled in ev­ery class. Lately, not so much. But on the up­side …

Amer­i­can kids won four gold medals at the 2018 Youth Worlds. And one sil­ver medal. And the Na­tions Cup for the best na­tional per­for­mance. And it was no ac­ci­dent. Four years ago, Pro­ject Pipe­line kicked off to join the tal­ent de­vel­op­ment of re­gional youth pro­grams with Olympic-level coach­ing from the U.S. Na­tional Team. Now we see what that can do. The kids are crank­ing, the kids be­lieve, and maybe, just maybe, it’s eas­ier for the rest of us to be­lieve.

For the next huge step along the pipe­line, we head to Cal­i­for­nia: It’s a bright sum­mer day, 1227 PDT, and the chief of U. S. Olympic Sail­ing, Mal­colm Page, has the floor in a con­tainer- vil­lage restau­rant on Trea­sure Is­land, in the mid­dle of San Francisco Bay. His au­di­ence is not av­er­age. Pic­ture a fair sam­pling of ev­ery Amer­i­can sailor on an Olympic track, some of them dazed from trans at­lantic/ transcon­ti­nen­tal flights plus an early call to tour the skunk works of their new tech­nol­ogy part­ner, Au­todesk. Also on hand, the full ad­min­is­tra­tive com­ple­ment of Amer­i­can Olympic sail­ing. Meet­ing in a “con­tainer vil­lage” sends a mes­sage. Or­a­cle Rac­ing has do­nated its con­tain­ervil­lage Amer­ica’s Cup base to US Sail­ing, to be in­stalled on Trea­sure Is­land and to be­come the first full- ser­vice, full- time train­ing base for U.S. Olympic sailors. When you talk about re­al­iz­ing a dream, hav­ing some­thing as solid as an Amer­ica’s Cup base picked up whole­sale and hauled over from Ber­muda goes a long way to­ward mak­ing the point.

On this day, the con­tainer base is sit­ting in a ware­house in Oak­land, await­ing per­mit­ting, but the point is made. “We’re flip­ping the sys­tem,” Page tells his au­di­ence. “The Amer­i­can model has been ath­lete-driven, ath­lete- pro­moted. That stopped work­ing when the IOC dropped the pro­hi­bi­tion against pro­fes­sion­als, and other coun­tries pro­fes­sion­al­ized their sailors. We’re not go­ing to have gov­ern­ment fund­ing like the U.K., but here on San Francisco Bay, Amer­i­cans who sup­port Olympic sail­ing are cre­at­ing a year-round cen­ter of ex­cel­lence, a place where coaches will be with their ath­letes ev­ery day they need to be, work­ing closely with the top one or two but with their eyes on another half dozen in de­vel­op­ment. It will be­come a place ac­com­mo­dat­ing every­thing an ath­lete needs, from train­ers and phys­io­ther­a­pists to, even­tu­ally, a so­lu­tion to hous­ing and sup­port for ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion. What you see here is US Sail­ing plant­ing

a stake in the ground on the West Coast. What you see is ev­i­dence of the most im­por­tant thing that could hap­pen in Olympic sail­ing in Amer­ica, a cul­tural shift, and it’s be­ing led by the San Francisco Bay Area, and it mat­ters that this is the tech­nol­ogy hub of the USA.”

And you, dear reader, will be need­ing some back­ground: San Francisco’s Trea­sure Is­land was cre­ated of land­fill for the 1939 World’s Fair. It soon be­came a base for the Navy, which re­turned it to the city in 1997. The rest has been a long time com­ing. There is an am­bi­tious plan to ren­o­vate the is­land for homes, of­fice space, re­tail, ho­tels and 300 acres of parks over the next 20 years. Look­ing back 20 years, Trea­sure Is­land Sail­ing Cen­ter was cre­ated on a pro­tected cove on the lee­ward side of the is­land to do all the things you ex­pect in com­mu­nity sail­ing. TISC’S sig­na­ture ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing for fourth-graders was seeded dur­ing the 2013 Amer­ica’s Cup. A ma­jor sup­porter since has been the St. Fran­cis Sail­ing Foun­da­tion, which sparked the turn of events we’re re­lat­ing here. The foun­da­tion’s lead­er­ship cre­ated FAST USA, the Fa­cil­ity for Ad­vanced Sail­ing and Tech­nol­ogy, and FAST is now part­nered with TISC and US Sail­ing. The goals are to trans­form Amer­i­can Olympic sail­ing and to el­e­vate ev­ery fea­ture of com­mu­nity sail­ing on San Francisco Bay — kids rub­bing shoul­ders with the greats, in­spi­ra­tion flow­ing both ways. Co­or­di­nat­ing with the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia city of Long Beach, where plan­ning is al­ready un­der­way for 2028 Olympic sail­ing, was an early or­der of busi­ness. It’s a long-term vi­sion. “It takes time to de­velop an Olympi­clevel ath­lete,” Page says, drawing from his own ex­pe­ri­ence of chok­ing the first time out, fall­ing short the sec­ond, then win­ning gold medals in sub­se­quent Olympics as a 470- class crew. And yes, it was the Aus­tralian an­them that played while he was on the podium. There is crit­i­cism that the United States did not hire its own, but what I know is that the sailors are happy. Paige Rai­ley, cel­e­brat­ing her re­turn af­ter a (coura­geous) year of re­hab­bing from in­juries, de­clares, “The ca­ma­raderie of this team is a thing of beauty.”

But why plant Olympic train­ing on San Francisco Bay? Credit the readi­ness of TISC to have tem­po­rary fa­cil­i­ties func­tion­ing in 2018, with a mul­ti­year plan for the build-out. Credit the sup­port of the St. Fran­cis Sail­ing Foun­da­tion, a new out­look at US Sail­ing and uniquely var­ied sail­ing con­di­tions. Finn bronze medal­ist Caleb Paine has in­vested count­less sail­ing hours here. Paired now with train­ing part­ner Luke Muller, he says, “San Francisco Bay al­lows you to choose your con­di­tions. For speed test­ing, we go to the East Bay. For light wind, we go to the South Bay. To chal­lenge our­selves, we go to the cityfront and sail in the Golden Gate wind fun­nel.” On many days of the year, San Francisco Bay of­fers a menu mim­ick­ing Rio, Tokyo, Mar­seilles, what­ever the need. That menu was part of the sell when FAST chair­man Peter Stoneberg toured Page around and pitched the no­tion of plant­ing this stake in this ground. Stoneberg says, “I have a friend in Olympic ski­ing, and I asked him what made the dif­fer­ence when Amer­i­can ski­ing turned around and started win­ning medals. He said it was cre­at­ing a cen­ter in Utah where the skiers have every­thing that could be ‘home’ for an ath­lete in train­ing. We’re build­ing that home for Olympic sailors.”

Fol­low­ing lunch and a crash course on the vi­sion for FAST, the sailors, coaches and Olympic staff make their way to the sail­ing cen­ter to min­gle with pub­lic-school kids and then get se­ri­ous about get­ting wet on San Francisco Bay. The neigh­bor­hood sur­round­ing is a zone of de­struc­tion and con­struc­tion — the is­land is thick with piles of rub­ble — and the sail­ing cen­ter is still the di­a­mond in the rough fa­mil­iar to lo­cals, but Olympic train­ing on San Francisco Bay is launched. Soon, FX new­bies are test­ing their chops in the pro­tected cove, while on the Laser front, Char­lie Buck­ing­ham, Chris Barnard, Erika Reineke and Rai­ley mix it up with bud­ding hope­fuls from Pro­ject Pipe­line. It’s two years to Tokyo, six years to Mar­seilles, 10 years to LA, and it’s about time. Q

What you see is ev­i­dence of the most im­por­tant thing that could hap­pen in Olympic sail­ing in Amer­ica, a cul­tural shift, and it’s be­ing led by the San Francisco Bay Area.

PHOTO : WILL RICK­ET­SON / US SAIL­ING TEAM

Olympic Nacra 17 sailor Bora Gu­lari signs au­to­graphs at the US Sail­ing Team’s new train­ing base on San Francisco Bay.

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