Friday, May 13, 2011

Back on the Circuit

I am back on the Olympic circuit once again. This time around I’m coaching. I’ve been hired by the Australian Sailing Team to Coach their Olympic Finn hopeful, Brendan Casey.

Australian Finn sailor Brendan Casey training in Miami

Although I have been coaching at a number of the individual World Cup events over the past few years for a few of the Laser and Finn sailors, being back on the Finn circuit doing another lap is a challenge I am relishing. My job started at the Sail for Melbourne regatta last December and includes all the 2011 & 2012 World Cup events, the pre-Olympics, ISAF Combined World Championship in Perth in December, and ultimately, the Olympics, if we meet the Australian qualifying criteria.

Reconnecting with the Finn class started last year while coaching Luke Lawrence leading up to his Finn Youth World Champion title in my hometown San Francisco. The Finn and its equipment, along with the sailing techniques, have evolved over the years since I last sailed the boat. The hulls have evolved to the point where they can be customized to certain body type and hiking style. For example, you can get a hull that is softer in the bow and deck that “twists” in heavy air and flexes to absorb energy of the waves, making it easier to hike if you are smaller or less powerful. The carbon masts have also improved the boat’s performance by reducing the tip weight and precisely controlling the bend characteristics. “Dialing in” the hull/mast/sail combination is a lot easier then in the past and is still the goal each sailor and coach is striving for. It’s crucial to have a good sail-mast combination that works over a wide range of conditions. However, the underlying fundamentals to succeed are still the same: fitness rules supreme, and you’d better be tactically sound and fast downwind.

latest modern Finn with see-through decks

There is one country and one sailor in particular who continues to dominate the class. The British have always been strong in the Finn class and in recent history have won the Gold Medal in the past three Olympics. However, this Olympic quad, the British squad has three sailors who are legitimate Gold Medal contenders, including the current World Champion Ed Wright, Giles Scott, and 2008 Gold Medalist Ben Ainslie. These three have dominated the top spots in the Finn class over the past year. However, Ben has recently been head and shoulders and shoulders over the rest. Not only has he won three of the past four World Cup events, but he dominated the fleet in Palma and Hyeres. In a number of races, he would finish a minute or more ahead of the next boat. It is truly inspiring to see him perform at the top of his game.

British Finn team dominates the first four World Cup events

Ben Ainslie
Olympics Gold 2004, 2008
Finn Gold Cup 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008
Europeans 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008

The British Finn trials are a selection process that has not been publicized. From the outside it looks to be subjective with no given deadline. However, the upcoming Sail for Gold World Cup regatta will be used by a number of countries, including Great Britain, to select the sole sailor in each class to compete in the Pre-Olympic regatta in August. The word around the boat park is that the British Finn sailor who medals at the pre-Olympics will be selected for the Olympics. If that is true then Sail for Gold should be well worth following the Finn action to see who gets the pre-Olympic berth.

Giles Scott, the only sailor to beat Anslie in a World Cup, and coach Matt Howard confer before the World Cup medal race in Palma, Spain

We are currently in Weymouth this week training with the British sailors before heading to the next World Cup event, the Delta Lloyd regatta in Holland. We then drive right back to Weymouth to prepare for Sail for Gold. I'm looking forward to doing my best to help my athlete succeed, and to seeing the outcome of this season's peak event.