Inspired by Our Inspirational Olympic Sailors

Men's Laser sailor Charlie Buckingham competes on the second of racing in Enoshima, Japan.

Men’s Laser sailor Charlie Buckingham competes on the second of racing in Enoshima, Japan. (World Sailing/Sailing Energy/)

Olympics is happening now and soon the medals will be given out, the tales of heroics and tragedy that is the 2021 Olympics will be written for all time. As we watch from afar, I think we should all remember why the Olympics are so important, and how our United States Sailing Team is an overwhelmingly positive force for sailing in this country.

In our sport, there are lots of regattas, but there are a very small number that really represent the pinnacle of our sport, and none more than the Olympic Games. So many of the legends of sailing made their mark in the Olympics; Elvstrom, Melges, Schumann, Conner, Ainslie. Now there is a new crop of top Olympic sailors, and these men and women are very, very good. They are superb athletes. They train relentlessly and scientifically. They have risen through the ranks over many years, and they continue to be driven by the pursuit of sailing their boat a little bit faster.

The U.S. Sailing Team is a diverse and powerful group. In each of the 10 classes, only one team from the U.S. can go and compete, so the competition for those spots is very intense. Every team had a different path to securing their Olympic dream, and each one has many great stories to tell. These athletes have had to deal with failure as well as success. Those that dealt with it well often went on to further success.

Some of our team is relatively young, and this is their first Olympic experience. Our FX (Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea), Nacra 17 (Riley Gibbs and Anna Weiss), Women’s 470 (Nikki Barns and Laura Dallman-Weiss) and Finn (Luke Muller) sailors are representing the United States at the highest level for the first time. They bring a battle hardened yet youthful passion to their efforts, and many will be back again in future Olympics, faster and smarter. Some of our team are true veterans, and have been sailing hard at the highest levels for ten to twenty years. Our Men’s 470 (Stu McNay and David Hughes), Radial (Paige Railey), and RS:X (Farrah Hall and Pedro Pascual) are truly battle hardened, and they are bringing their tremendous experience and perseverance to the Olympic Regatta.

Many of the U.S. athletes have benefited from a well-organized domestic training program, where the top American teams train together and share coaching. This has been providing tremendous benefits, especially in the Covid year. We have also seen our team being pushed hard by youth sailors who are working their way up the Olympic pipeline. Some of these will be representing the U.S. in Marseilles in 2024! The Olympic sailing infrastructure in this country is pretty lean, but also highly effective, with strong leadership form Paul Cayard and Luther Carpenter, and dedicated, professional staff and coaches. The program is on a positive trajectory and there is a lot of optimism about the future.

Think of what an aspiring Olympic sailor went through in the last two years. Until March 2020 your path was clear, the regattas were set, the training partners lined up. Then everything changed in a flash, and the whole sport had to figure it out. Some athletes stopped training but the majority kept at it, despite the uncertain future. Together with their coaches, they had to find a new way to train, new ways to get better without the usual regatta/training camp routine.

The good teams figured it out and used this time to train smarter and get even better. Some teams, including some American teams, used this extra year to go from average to top form. Even when the one-year delay was announced, there was a lot of uncertainty about would the Olympics actually go ahead. The top Olympic athletes find a way to stay strong, including our American team. I am inspired and motivated by the commitment, the expertise, and the teamwork that our USST exemplifies. All sailors should be proud to have these athletes representing the United States. They represent the ideals that we all share: prepare well, play hard but fair, get better each day.