It had to happen.
When the best group of athletes you can assemble fails dismally, what else can you do? Fire the coach.
And so that's what has just happened to the head coach of the US Olympic Sailing Team who failed to win a single medal at this year's Olympic Games.
A statement from US Sailing this week, makes it clear that Kenneth Andreasen (High Performance Director/ Head Coach) is toast, gone... fired.
And buried in the corporate boiler-plate that always accompanies such announcements is a clue to what this might mean for the future direction of US Olympic sailing.
After careful consideration, it is clear that we need to take a new direction on the performance side of the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program. That direction will include a sharper focus on the performance development of sailors and classes, boatspeed, and being a technically superior team.
Ouch. Boatspeed! You ain't going to win many Olympic sailing medals without boatspeed for sure.
The statement goes on...
Kenneth has been committed and dedicated to U.S. Olympic Sailing. He deserves credit for, among other things, his emphasis on class teamwork and fitness, positives in our program that we will continue to build on.
Andreasan was the one with the emphasis on "class teamwork" and "fitness" was he?
These two planks of the program have certainly been well publicized in US Sailing press releases and individual sailors' blog in the last few years. Boot camps in the Rockies. Lots of team building exercises. Training together as a team.
I have to say I've had my doubts about the focus on these two issues - especially if they were at the expense of other important stuff. Like being technically superior. Or boatspeed.
Don't get me wrong, fitness is certainly important in all the Olympic classes. At my mediocre level, getting fitter is probably the best thing I could do to improve my sailing performance. But beyond a certain level I suspect there is a law of diminishing returns for elite sailors. Once you can hike or trapeze all day at maximum effort, what do you really gain by being able to bench press another 10 lbs or run 100 yards a tenth of a second faster?
The emphasis on "class teamwork" has troubled me even more. Sure it must be helpful and even reassuring for Olympic hopefuls to have the support of fellow team members. But is there a downside too? Don't Olympic sailors need to be totally single-minded and ruthless in the pursuit of first a place at the Olympics and then an Olympic medal? Aren't the other team members actually your competition when you are trying to win Olympic selection? If you are the best sailor in the US in your class, do you really want to train with the other team members trying to knock you off your perch? Won't you do better by training with the top sailors from other nations?
Of course I am no expert on these matters. But when did this ever stop me from opining on any topic on this blog?
But don't take my word for it. Read this post - The US Sailing Team - Does One Size Fit All? by John Bertrand (who is an Olympic sailing medallist himself and a highly respected coach.) Bertrand's post is about a talented young Finn sailor, Luke Lawrence, who made the US Sailing Development Team but became frustrated at the lack of coaching support he was receiving.
Luke was not satisfied with his results after his first two World Cup regattas. Luke, being the newbie in the four-boat team, was frustrated with the lack of on-the-water support he was receiving and how he was being treated by the coach. At times he was hard pressed to get access to the coach boat to get food and water, let alone access to Andreasen for post-race observations, because the priority was Zach Railey and Brian Boyd, the number one and two US team sailors. Luke, as a committed, motivated sailor, needed Andreasen's knowledge and experience, but simply wasn't getting it.
So Luke hired John Bertrand as his personal coach to supplement the support he was receiving from the US Sailing coaches. And then he was accused by the US Sailing powers-that-be of not being a team player and effectively banned from the team! Read the full post. Bertrand has some insightful observations on the relative merits of team and individual coaching, and what has made sailors from other nations (GBR - yeah!) so good, and even on why Zach Railey's performance was not up to his expectations under this US Sailing "team" philosophy.
I wish US Sailing well in their search for a new Head Coach and in developing an improved focus for the Olympic program in the next 4 years.