Is Home Advantage A Myth? 

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The Brits ruling the roost during the 2012 Olympic regatta is already a foregone conclusion right?

After all who else knows the waters of Weymouth and Portland better than the Skandia Team GBR sailors? Who has had the most opportunities to familiarise themselves with every inch of the Olympic sailing venue ever since the location for the 2012 Games was announced?  

‘Home advantage’ is often one of the first things to get trotted out by commentators when looking at why one team, nation or individual is favoured over another in discussions about likely victors before any sporting event.  

But is home advantage really all it’s cracked up to be or is it just a convenient tagline, readymade to fit any scenario where sporting endeavours are set to be played out?  

When it comes to London 2012, RYA Olympic Manager Stephen ‘Sparky’ Park believes the whole notion of the Brits having any sort of ‘home advantage’ will be long gone by the time the Games come around.  

He said: “I personally don’t believe that home advantage is actually going to be an advantage at all when we get to the Olympics. We like to think it will always be possible for us to try to really retain a huge home advantage, the reality is that by the time we get to the Games, everyone will know the venue and it is going to come down to who is going to sail best on the day.  

“To be honest I kind of like it that way anyway, because I think the Olympic Games are all about the best athletes winning the right medals because they have put the best show on and produced the best performance at the time of the Olympics.”  

So why does Sparky, who is now heading into his third Olympics at the helm of the British sailing team, feel so strongly that the Brits will enjoy little, if not any, home advantage at London 2012.  

Well history would suggest you only have to look at the performances of Britain’s sailors at the last three Olympics for the biggest clue. The Brits emphatically topped the sailing medal tables at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 where preparation and time spent in the venue in the run-in to each of the respective Games meant that come showtime Britain was as ready as anyone.  

This he says will be no different for any of the foreign teams in the build up to 2012.  

“Over the last couple of months we have really seen the number of teams training in Weymouth Bay increase. There have been about 25 different nations training there over the last couple of months and of course, there were more than 50 nations training n the build up to Skandia Sail for Gold.   

“Quite a few of those nations have got themselves long-term bases, they have taken long leases, or even bought property in Portland and most of them have got long-term contracts to train either at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, or indeed with other venues such as Castle Cove Sailing Club, Weymouth Sailing Club and lots of venues around and about the bay.  

“The opportunities are there for everyone, and yes, perhaps some sailors who spend a little bit more time in the venue will be better prepared, but that is the situation and there is no point us getting upset or overly concerned about it.”  

While he admits that having the Olympics on their doorsteps does make things a bit easier for the British sailors in terms of being able to spend a lot of time on the water and being surrounded by the comfortable familiarities of home, and their close-knit support networks, Sparky also concedes with those pluses come potential pitfalls.  

“There are certainly some disadvantages as well,” he says. “The first is just making sure our sailors and coaches don’t get complacent; it would be very easy to sit back thinking that we have done very well at the last few Games and we have been doing very well in the interim. Guarding against the feeling among the sailors that they have sailed at Weymouth and Portland a lot so no-one else can know it as well as them or that if the weather or wind behaves in a certain way then it should pay to favour one side of the course, as opposed to judging each situation on its merits, is also crucial.  

“The other big disadvantage is everybody locally knows the sailors, which can create a lot of additional distractions. There is plenty of additional media attention also because it’s easy for the media, both nationally and regionally, to visit the National Sailing Academy and visit the sailors, both planned and impromptu, which makes it more difficult to go and do things quietly.”  

However for all the possible preparation snags to be aware of, Sparky is confident the Brits experience in consistently producing the goods on foreign waters will stand them in good stead when it comes to approaching the 2012 Olympic regatta.  

And he hopes the support and enthusiasm for the British sailors already demonstrated by the Weymouth and Portland public can continue to have a positive effect in helping Team GB finishing atop the Olympic medal table for the fourth Games running.  

He added: “There are a lot of challenges for us as the home nation, but they are challenges we are relishing and all our sailors and support staff are getting stuck into those at the moment and so far, so good. It’s about making sure we continue to try, wherever possible, to go through and reinforce our standard routines as we would carry them out at any other Olympic Games or any other World Cup regatta.  By doing that, and doing it regularly, then we ingrain behaviours within everybody in the team and hopefully can expect to get what we deserve.  

“It is great to have all our extended international family and all our friends and mates from all the other teams around the world coming to Weymouth and Portland. It is great for the town, hopefully on a commercial basis but also just in terms of bringing a little bit of the London Olympics to Weymouth and Portland. There has been a great local reception for the sailors so far and hopefully support for sailing locally will continue to increase over the next two years.”