One month ago I flew home from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero with a new appreciation for what Olympic success looked like, and the first thing that I did was buy a fresh, new notebook for 2020. The next four years are an empty canvas. The 2017 calendar is not yet set, we have resources to support the program (coach boats, housing on the west coast, support from the US Sailing leadership, etc.), my time as a US Sailing coach is potentially "up for grabs" when it comes to coaching hours, we have other coaches interested in helping out, and we even have some institutional knowledge about how to succeed in the skiff fleets. We have everything that we need in order to create an amazing training program to put US 49ers and 49erFX teams on the podium at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
With that said, the biggest component that will determine whether we succeed or fail, is our ability to come together as a group, collaborate, push each other, and ultimately raise the bar for sailing as a whole in the United States. With only a handful of athletes who have their sights set on Tokyo, each athlete is a key piece of the puzzle, and a critical voice in the process. We will have to have hard conversations about how coaching gets allocated when some teams make gold fleet and others do not. We'll have to talk about the reality of how each team is going to collaborate to raise the bar, while simultaneously making plans to beat each of the other teams to qualify for the Olympics. We are going to have to talk money, and who will be paying for what - how everyone will make a living to support themselves while putting in long hours on the water. Some athletes will be involved full time, while others will only be part time competitors looking to ramp up the effort at the end of the quad. We have students, professionals, pro sailors, and some athletes who don't fit into any of those categories. We're not going to put in place the perfect program right out of the gates, but by implementing a collaborative strategy that builds on feedback from all of our participants to grow the program, I know that it can evolve to a really productive, fun place for everyone within the next year or two.
I have done a lot of thinking about what it takes to make this happen, and the number one conclusion that it always comes back to is that this cannot be a top-down program. As a US Sailing coach, I can do a lot to support the team, but ultimately, everyone needs to be involved in the calendaring, the planning and the program development to help us create the best tools for our athletes to succeed.