Stephen Park: Looking back at 2013

Stephen Park: Looking back at 2013

Thursday December 19 2013 Author: Stephen Park Location: none selected

As 2013 draws to a close, it is traditionally the time to reflect on the past year’s achievements, and celebrate successes.

While there were plenty of positives in 2013 to reflect upon, with the British Sailing Team having collected 70 medals at major regattas, achieving International podium finishes in every one of our 13 classes on at least one occasion, and with Great Britain heading the ISAF world ranking list, my mind is drawn more towards looking to the future, towards Rio de Janeiro.

The year ahead is going to see the journey to the Rio 2016 Games really kick into action, with the first nations qualifying for the Olympics at the Santander 2014 Worlds in September, straight after the first official 2016 Test Event in Rio, where sailors from around the world will do battle for the first time in official competition on the Olympic waters.

From a British Sailing Team perspective the 2014 Worlds will, I suspect, see some of our teams start to set out their case to be top dog in their classes, while the Rio Test Event in August will be a great learning opportunity for those expecting to be returning in 2015 and 2016.

Hopefully we may even see the first test event for Paralympic sailors, to parallel the journey taken by their Olympic colleagues. It is far from confirmed, but it would be a great step forward in my opinion as ISAF and IFDS attempt to bring the Olympic and Paralympic aspects of our sport closer together following their merger, confirmed at the ISAF Annual Conference in Oman last month.

Racing-wise, our sailors in the new classes of Nacra 17 and 49erFX will have had a full competition year under their belts, and we will be looking forward to seeing how those class performances develop and who else may throw their hat in the ring after an extended break post 2012, or even the America’s Cup.

Of course the competition within our own Team in the more established classes is also sure to hot up. In the 49er class, we have a couple of new partnerships emerging as Stu Bithell moves back to the front of the boat after a stint helming, and is now sailing with experienced 49er skipper John Pink. Stevie Morrison and Chris Grube have also teamed up following the retirement of Morrison’s long term partner Ben Rhodes, while double silver medallist Nick Rogers has, this year, also called time on Olympic sailing. Ben and Nick are both great characters who have given years of great service to the Team, and I am sure will go on to more success as their careers develop outside of their Olympic boats.

This year has also been tinged with sadness, having lost an Olympic great and a dear friend in Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson. Although Bart was no longer campaigning, he was still involved with the British Sailing Team, giving advice to the sailors and sharing his knowledge and experiences as part of our Olympic Steering Group, which shapes the priorities and direction of our programme. We miss his presence, but will honour him by ‘just cracking on with it’, as he would say, and making the most of every day we have through until the Rio 2016 Games.

The recent decisions at the ISAF Annual Conference have also given us plenty to look forward to. There was some good clarity about the racing format at the Olympics, with reserve days added to the proposed schedule to try to provide an opportunity to catch up on any lost races at the mid-point and the end of the regatta, which increases the chances of a full series being completed. Hopefully the IFDS will take note and include similar reserve days in the Paralympic schedule.

The existing Olympic and Paralympic classes are now all confirmed for Tokyo 2020, which gives great security to all our Podium Potential sailors and I look forward to seeing a few of them keeping our Podium sailors honest as we progress through the year.

Probably the exciting outcome from this year’s conference was the news that ISAF intends to push ahead with a revised version of the Sailing World Cup, to begin in late 2014, and with entries limited to the top 25 sailors in each class from around the World. Of course with grand plans there are always plenty of hurdles to overcome along the way, and there are certainly plenty of those in the case of the new World Cup plans, but whichever way you look at it, the plans are exciting and it will be interesting to see if ISAF can manage to bring it to fruition.

For the British Sailing Team, the New Year’s racing will start early with a number of our sailors heading to Rio de Janeiro for some early January racing before the majority of our top teams make their way on to the ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami before the month is out. From January right through to the Santander Worlds in September, it is going to be flat out.

It will be hard work for the sailors, coaches and support staff, but all of them are totally committed to the cause.

For me, well, I can’t wait – Rio here we come!

Thanks for all your support through 2013 – I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and successful 2014!

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