Thursday, April 14, 2011

Greece? Belarus?

It has become popular among certain American politicians to claim that if their particular magic fix for the US economy is not enacted immediately, then the USA will end up just like Greece. I don't know why they always choose Greece. Maybe they don't want to upset all the Irish-American voters by using Ireland as an example of economic disaster? Maybe Iceland is too obscure?

Whatever the reason, "We'll end up like Greece!" seems to be the equivalent of the parental warning, "You'll shoot your eye out!" Greece has become a synonym for "really really bad".

Well, the future of the US economy may still be in some doubt, but one thing is clear: the state of US Olympic fleet racing is already pretty dire. The latest ISAF World Sailing Fleet Racing Rankings have just been released. The histogram below shows the countries ranked by the number of top three ranked sailors they have in all nine Olympic fleet racing classes.

OMG. The USA is ranked as level with Belarus and... Greece.


I have attended several Laser Masters World Championships with the letters USA proudly displayed on my sail. I have sailed in several Sunfish World Championships as a member of the US team. Whatever it says in my passport, when it comes to international sailing I am an American. And I must admit I am ashamed to see my adopted nation ranked so low.

The richest nation in the world with over 300 million people and 12,000 miles of coastline is no better at sailing than tiny Greece with 11 million people? What is going on?

OK. OK. I guess Greece does have a fine maritime tradition and a fairly long coastline. So I guess it's not too awful for the United States to say, "We're no worse than Greece."

But Belarus? Now this is getting ridiculous.

Landlocked Belarus. Made up country that was part of the former Soviet Union. Tiny Belarus. There as many people living in Los Angeles as in Belarus.

That is pretty sad. We competed with the Soviet Union in every sphere of human endeavor for decades. In space, in science, in sport. We raced them to the moon. We won the cold war.

And we did all that so that one day we could say that in sailing, "We're no worse than Belarus"?

What is wrong with US Olympic sailing? Why is our ISAF ranking so low?

Greece? Belarus?


BlueVark said...

Don't forget the fact that Belarus is entirely landlocked - not one inch of coastline.

Oh and by the way GO GBR :)

Tillerman said...

That is true BlueVark. But even though Belarus doesn't have a coastline, it does have something called the Minsk Sea. I gather this is an artificial reservoir only a few km from the center of Minsk.


Mojo said...

In the cold of winter, I wonder how many of the minx in Minsk wear minks?

Anonymous said...

Having raced many Laser sailors from the US in both the US and elsewhere in the world I have an opinion on why the US considering its size has no depth of talent at least in the Laser class.

To put it simply many US sailors think they are far better than they actually are and are further down the fleet you go the lazier and more self entitled they seem to get. They usually do mainly gym work to the exclusion of actual sailing and they usually lack skills on the water.

I find some US sailors satisfying to race against because they seem to have the attitude that they should always be further to the front of the fleet than they usually are and when they are are being passed downwind etc they cuss and do some really stupid things for eg, taking you up to weather to the point that they ruin their own race. and allowing you to slide past in the process. It never seems to occur to them how that thin weedy looking dude from FRA could be faster than an American.

You have or had guys like Ross and his blog as one good example. It is considered bad form in the US to say to someone that you suck and your dreams will be forever that, just dreams.

There is not enough clear feedback to some, that they need to do a lot of work to do well, I do not say win, just do well. Years of training and learning how to put together a regatta. One guy I raced against from the US who no longer sails Lasers actually got to go the Olympics representing another country even though he could not even finish in the top 10 in a local district event out of only 60 boats. He used to walk around the boat park earlier on, in his team gear as if he was some top elite sailor and then proceed to have his ass handed to him by local club sailors.

The top US laser guys are very good sailors but they appear to lack that extra thing you require to win. Not simply a desperation to win but an all encompassing understanding that winning is only possible if you have done all the work and are prepared to push yourself to the point of breaking 4-5 days a week for years.

On rereading what I wrote I will say that many US sailors particularly those on the circuit are a pleasure to race against but you do have a large number of laser guys that seem to struggle with the whole concept that world is a big place and there are plenty of sailors they may never have run across before that are more than equal to the best the US has.

Pat said...

But the cooling pond for the Chernobyl/Cho'rnobyl reactors is only a few miles outside of Belarus -- might be nice, warm sailing even in the cool season.

As for the USA and Olympic sailing;

(1) Where are the dollars? How many of these countries have government funding for all of their Olympic sports? It would be interesting to learn how countries are doing on a "medals per dollars" basis.

(2) In the USA, sailing got pretty good attention a generation ago, but that attention has faded greatly. And, our attention span for Olympic sports has always been a bit short.

(3) We have very limited infrastructure for identifying talent -- compare the number of sailing program slots with the number of basketball hoops in this country.

(4) Sailing in the USA has not done a good job of creating identifiable heroes with whom young people can identify.

(5) Sailing in the USA doesn't have much of a mechanism or effort to retain young sailors as they approach and reach adulthood; many thousands of young sailors are leaving the sport just as they reach the age where young people in other nations may be gearing up as serious young athletes.

(6) Sailor-athletes in the USA have limited sponsorship opportunities in a country that doesn't have a tradition of seeing sailors as athletes or celebrities. Accordingly, sailor-athletes often must spend much of their time on fund-raising or must have enough money of their own or from their family in order to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to campaign for an Olympic quadrennium. That decreases the talent pool.

Tillerman said...

Pat, you forgot to mention the most important factor. According to Wikipedia which is never wrong, at the 2008 Olympics, a sponsor of the Belarusian team, Belatmit, offered gold medal winners from Belarus free sausage for life!

Who could resist an offer like that? Where is the American sausage industry when we need them? Why aren't they standing behind our Olympic athletes?

Pat said...

Could a sausage faucet assuage our paucity of medals? Can we hope to achieve sausage reciprocity?

Or will we be left behind when Belgium offers beer to its team members and Japan comes out with sushi for life? And will the Scots add whiskey to make the Brits even more dangerous, leaving nothing for us but maybe some haggis and an apprentice piper?

Tillerman said...

Whisky? Britain did better than that. According to this article members of Team GB in Beijing were "offered bonuses of up to £20,000, an Alfa Romeo car and even colour-coded champagne as an extra incentive to win medals."

Baydog said...

Do me a favour and define colour-coded champagne.

Tillerman said...

Gold champagne for a gold medal.
Silver champagne for a silver medal.
Pink champagne for a bronze medal.

I guess this offering of prizes to medal winners is a great way for sponsors to get into the game for a relatively low cost. Though I do doubt whether a bottle of pink champagne or a lifetime's supply of Belarusian sausages makes a lot of difference to an athlete's desire to win a medal.

BlueVark said...

I have been to Belarus and tasted their sausage. The prospect of a lifetimes supply would make me sail slower (if that is, in fact, possible).

Mind you the beer heated sauna was interesting!!

Anonymous said...

Maybe all the talent is deciding to go into the more lucrative mixed martial arts arena instead.

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