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Skandia Team GBR may be more familiar than most with the surrounds of Weymouth and Portland but the British sailing team has never really been known for leaving things to chance which is why this week’s Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta will see the Brits going into full pre-Olympic mode.

Compared to Beijing 2008, when there were two Olympic Test Events for sailing, there is just the one official 2012 Test Event taking place at Weymouth and Portland next summer meaning many teams will be using this year’s Skandia Sail for Gold to really start putting their 2012 plans to the test, a notion supported by the huge turnout of more than 1,000 sailors from 56 countries.  

And Skandia Team GBR are no different as RYA Olympic Manager Stephen ‘Sparky’ Park explains: “We only get a couple of opportunities between now and 2012 to put one or two of our ideas to the test so we want to make sure we really utilise those. “It would be very easy for our sailors to just think it’s another regatta at Weymouth or another World Cup event but in two years’ time it’s going to be the Olympic regatta and we don’t want that to come as a big shock in terms of how we’re going to have to operate because of the limitations that will be placed on us by the infrastructure that comes with the Olympic Games. By that I mean limited numbers, security, numbers of support staff; all those sorts of things we want to start practising early so we can give our sailors as much preparation and idea of what it’s going to be like in 2012 before we get there.”    

The logistics of co-ordinating the team effort at Sail for Gold is the responsibility of Wendy Maxwell, the RYA’s Olympic Operations Officer, working alongside Technical Projects Manager, Peter Bentley among others.

With invaluable experience gained from Beijing, Wendy admits that even though the British sailors spend so much time at Weymouth and Portland minimising the number of outside distractions all make a huge difference to a sailor’s performance. 

“All the feedback we had from the sailors and coaches after Beijing regarding the team operation was that what we did worked and the results would certainly seem to support that. We’ve tried to recreate that for Sail for Gold so all the sailors have to worry about is getting in the boat and sailing. 

“Compared to China this has been very straightforward to get sorted. For Beijing, Sparky, Peter Bentley and myself went out to China for a recce in 2005 and the next time we were there was the 2006 Test Event. The Chinese were fantastic but all relationships had to be built by email and over the phone and of course there was the issue of time difference and language, as well as having to ship the boats and containers halfway round the world.  

“With Weymouth being just down the road we’ve been able to be on the spot all the time. This regatta’s been a year in the planning, even going so far as finding the best places in town for the sailors to watch the football if they want, or get a pedicure, or play golf. Time out is as important as training and competition so we have to make sure they have options should they wish to do other things.  

“My role’s really about helping to produce an environment that comprehensively supports the sailors so they can go out there and concentrate on trying to win medals. They know they can ask me any question at any time and if something needs doing I’ll do it. Although Ben Ainslie did ask me if I’d be doing his washing for him but I think he was only joking!”  

Skandia Team GBR’s team culture has long been the envy of the world’s top sailing nations, with many working tirelessly with some success to recreate and emulate the British model in recent years.  

Sparky knows the danger of complacency on home waters lurks over the heads of the British team as London 2012 gets ever closer but he insists by keeping team morale high and learning lessons from previous Olympic host nations there is no reason Skandia Team GBR can’t stay ahead of the game.  

“That’s why it’s great all of our sailors are really committed to dealing with this event as a pre-Olympic event,” he adds. “Particularly for the sailors who live locally, it would be so easy for them to just treat it as a local weekend regatta, stay at home, cruise down the road, go sailing, pack up their boat at the end of the day and zoom off home again.  

“Everybody from all the visiting countries are going to be doing everything they can to make us question our own belief and own performance (at Sail for Gold) so it’s important to keep team morale up and keep the belief that we can actually deliver what we set out to deliver. Right now morale is at an absolute high, all the sailors and support staff are pulling as one in the right direction and really we can’t wait to get racing.  

“We’re looking to make sure we’re competitive in all 10 Olympic events and the three Paralympic classes, which probably means top six in every event of which we’d be looking to make half of those into medals. It’s going to be harder than ever to win medals when we get to 2012 and I’m sure the other nations are going to be trying pretty hard to win them here at Skandia Sail for Gold.”

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