Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is It Really About The Money?



Dean Brenner, the outgoing chair of the US Sailing Olympic Committee, has been remarkably brave and open in answering questions about his team's dismal performance in a thread on Sailing Anarchy The Dean Comes Clean.

Kudos to him for that.

I was struck by a comment he made in a discussion about allocation of funding...

From 2005-2008, Zach Railey and Anna Tunnicliffe got relatively little funding. They had not yet earned it. But they never complained, they worked hard, they got their results where they needed to be and their funding changed dramatically.

Just to remind you, in the 2008 Olympics, Anna won the gold medal in Laser Radials and Zach won the silver medal in the Finns. All with "relatively little funding" from US Sailing apparently. And these were the only sailing medals that the US won that year.

In the 2012 Olympics the US didn't win any medals. Anna was the skipper of the women's match racing team that came 5th in their event. Zach came 12th in the Finns. This time their funding had changed "dramatically." Dramatically upwards presumably.

 Hmmm.

 Is funding really the problem?

How do do two sailing stars perform worse after 4 years of "dramatically" greater support from US Sailing?


17 comments:

Judith Krimski said...

He also said they peaked too early (referring to the laser sailors who qualified way back in December) and spent too much time in Weymouth before the Olympics started. Weymouth was cold and dreary so they got cold and dreary too. The poor wittle sailing babies.

Tillerman said...

I suspected the same. At the end of last year it looked like several US sailors had a chance to medal, but their performance in major regattas went downhill this year. I think sometimes you can overtrain and get stale.

Also, in theory it's a good idea to get familiar with the sailing waters of a major regatta but we also heard that the wind conditions and shifts were unusual during the Olympics. (The good old, "It's not usually like this here" syndrome.) Sometimes a little local knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I can also understand that you can spend too much time at a cold and dreary locale and it could sap your energy and motivation. 10 days at Hayling Island in 2010 nearly killed my passion for Laser sailing for good. (Poor wittle me.)

Of course, if any of the above is true, I blame the coaches and the people managing the program, not the individual sailors. Professional coaches should know how to manage a sailor's program so that they peak for the big event.

Anonymous said...

With respect to Anna and Zach, Anna T and her team had performed extremely well right up to the Games. Zach R, not so much. I find it hard to deduce anything from those 'data'.

Wavedancer

Tillerman said...

My point about Zach and Anna was that they both performed extraordinarily well at the 2008 Olympics, when in the preceding years they got "relatively little funding" from US Sailing. If nothing else you would think that "dramatically" better funding from US Sailing would enable these two to maintain their dominance and to medal again. But it didn't. I'm asking why. Clearly giving the sailors more funding didn't help. Why not?

You can certainly argue that US Sailing doesn't yet have the development "pipeline" fully in place to develop younger sailors up to the Olympic level, although they have been making some progress in that area. But why did our top two sailors from 2008 apparently go backwards from 2009 to 2012? OK, Anna did well right up to the Games but why didn't she and her team "peak" at the Games" And why was Zach not performing (in the same class) as well in 2012 as he did in 2008?

Could it be that something about the warm embrace of being a fully funded member of USSTAG/USSTSTS is counter-productive?

Sloan said...

Copy the Australian funding model..

Treat them mean and keep them keen.

Seemed to work for Anna in the early days.

Tillerman said...

"Treat them mean and keep them keen." I like that. I guess that's the essence of what I've been thinking about over the last few days.

Don't you need to be an absolutely ruthless, selfish, driven, highly motivated individual to win an Olympic gold medal? Is the US system encouraging that kind of individualistic, even selfish attitude? Or have they gone too far to the "let's all be one happy team and support each other and don't rock the boat" model?

So what is the Australian funding model?

Bursledon Blogger said...

Could be the problem is that "medal" is a noun and "meddle" is the verb!

Adam Turinas said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, Money is the means not the end. This is a not a problem that would be solved by throwing money at it but it's a problem that would be solved by having a better system and plan that will require more money

Adam Turinas said...

I liked Dean's point about lack of talent pipeline. One of the amazing changes in the UK is that schools have sailing teams. Why? Partly because there are kids who admire Ben Ainslie. More importantly, thanks to the RYA trying out sailing is easier.

JP was telling me about his niece from Sheffield who learned to sail at school on a lake

We need to inspire a generation

Tillerman said...

Good way to put it Adam. Of course money can help. But it has to be spent wisely.

Tillerman said...

A better pipeline is certainly part of a long term solution. But there's still something seriously wrong when people who have already won medals who decide to go for another Olympics actually do worse under the current US Sailing training and funding regime than when they received "relatively little funding" from US Sailing.

Tillerman said...

Oh don't be such a fuddy duddy BB. According to Merriam Webster "medal" is a perfectly good intransitive verb, albeit its first known use in that way was in 1979.

Tillerman said...

Coincidentally there was an article in Scuttlebutt yesterday by Ben Barger, who was the U.S. windsurfing representative at the 2008 Olympics, in which he addressed the issue of whether the money available for the US Sailing Team is spent wisely. Part of what he said was...

"The running costs for a medalist program from my experience with other federations is around 500K per class per year and that's not just going to one team but a large team of national competing members. We should have won at least three medals with the US Sailing Team budget ($4 million), but instead we bought coach boats, supported 10 staff members full time and funded a few people in a few classes. We got unlucky in those few classes in London.

The U.S. coaches and staff are paid significantly more than their European counterparts, in some cases twice as much. Some people think they deserved it, but I believe more money needs to get to the sailors. Only 16% of total US Sailing Team money actually gets to athletes pockets. A crying shame. "

You can read the full post here.

Mike Lindstrom 189827 said...

I'm around student athtletes everyday. I provide lighting systems for outdoor fields where they play football, soccer, baseball and softball. As a Grand Master Laser sailor, I can tell you that the kids I see everyday are a different breed than the kids I see at the regattas. I think there is something to the "type" of athletes currently attracted to sailing in the US. No offense to those sailing today but my opinion is that attitude is every bit as important as skill and funding.

When you walk onto a football practice field at the local high school as a man with grey-white hair, you're met with "yes sir" and "no sir" and "excuse me". When I was in line to sign up at the Easter Regatta in Austin last spring three junior sailors cut in front of me and gave me a dirty look when I said "excuse me".

In that same regatta, a young fella had right of way but was on my blind side and I didn't see him. He quietly informed me of his starboard right-of-way just before ramming my $5,000 Laser braodside with his newer (I assume parent funded) Laser.

My experience is limited to the regattas I choose to sail in and I'm sure there are some great kids in the "pipe-line". I just haven't met them yet.

Adam Turinas said...

"Seriously wrong" about sums it up. Wow

Noodle said...

Dunno bout your locals, but over here it was never about the funding. It is - as Mike already stated - about the attitude, and that's how it should be. I mean, if money makes a sure winner, then what's the point in doing sports, - or watching it? Besides, Olympics is for amateurs, right? Or was at least...

gbr onlooker said...

Anna was a great Laser sailor with a great training partner in paige railey pushing her, where was her push to qualify for her olympic spot this time?
You can probably add paige to the list of not perrforming as well as she used to as well

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