The time to shine 

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As the British Sailing Team prepares to take on the world at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park shares his thoughts on the task ahead at the world’s biggest sporting event.

No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

This is now the time to shine and I think that the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio are going to be incredibly exciting.

The Games is the ultimate opportunity, the crescendo of a huge amount of effort and application in pursuit of a goal. Who, on that day, in that venue, this summer, will actually bring it all together and really sail their best regatta. It’s like surfing the perfect wave!

We’re fielding a full team of 15 athletes in ten events at the Olympic Games, six athletes in three events at the Paralympics, and all of them on their day can win races at the Games. There is fantastic potential there but you could say that about a number of other sailors from a number of other countries, so it’s all about who is going to deliver on that day.

If the British Sailing Team can come away with three to five Olympic medals, and one or two Paralympic medals then we would have to consider nowadays that would be a pretty excellent take-home from the number of medal opportunities we have.

I’m absolutely of the belief that we’ve got a great team of talent and as strong a team as we’ve ever had going in to the Games, I think the venue itself, with its complex winds and challenging tides, brings with it a lot more unpredictability in terms of whether people can master those conditions and deliver on their talent.

On that basis it’s probably not quite such a good a Games if you‘re a betting man or woman. It’s probably not a Games that you want to bet the house on for any athlete in any event, but in terms of the talent we’re taking, we’ve got some fantastic sailors and if we get our fair share of the luck then there is no reason why their talent shouldn’t shine in Guanabara Bay and win those medals for Great Britain in Rio.

Across the team we’ve got a fantastic mix of age and experience this time around. Nick Dempsey, for example, is heading to his fifth Olympic Games and is really gunning for that windsurfing gold medal to add to his silver and bronze at what he’s said will be his last attempt. We’ve got Bryony Shaw, Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark and Luke Patience, Helena Lucas, Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell – all of whom have won Olympic or Paralympic medals before.

We’ve also got some sailors with a fantastic track record on the world stage and a huge amount of experience – multiple World Champions Giles Scott and Nick Thompson for example – but who haven’t yet had the opportunity to make their mark on the Olympic scene. Hopefully now is their time and they will be able to deliver on that promise.

It’s a really diverse group of sailors who all support each other, and that diversity will create a synergy at the Games that will maybe just add that 0.1 of a percent and might just mean the difference between silver and gold, or fourth and bronze, and allow us to continue to surf this wave of success which we have enjoyed over the years – most significantly over the past 20 years thanks to National Lottery funding which has really transformed British sailing and the face of British sport on the international stage.

Rio will be my fifth Olympic Games and my fourth as the British Sailing Team’s manager. I’m proud to be leading the team once again, to be able to see and follow their journeys and the emotion, and hopefully help them get in the right place at the right time without any hurdles in the way of them achieve their goal. That does give me great pleasure and it still excites me now as much as it ever did.

I think I probably see my role as someone who’s there overseeing, hopefully standing back and casting an eye over – more like the captain of the ship and not the helmsman, asking the right questions at the right times. We have some fantastic coaches, some totally dedicated support staff and some good experienced people around to keep a look out as well and keep things moving in the right direction. For sure you never stop learning in this game and that is a great benefit of having a strong team – you learn together, and you learn hopefully quicker than anyone else.

Rest assured that every day throughout the Games we are going to be pushing 100%. Rio will be hosting the biggest party in the world, the biggest gathering of people in the world ever. Hopefully we will have won some medals and this group of people and their journey will be memories that they will have for their rest of their lives, also creating memories and aspirations that will inspire kids of the future to take up the sport and participate, and to get on that journey, realise those dreams themselves and be those next Olympians representing Great Britain and keep Britannia ruling the waves for years to come.

The 2016 Olympic Games sailing competition runs from 8-18 August, and the Paralympic Games sailing competition from 12-17 September.

The celebrate Rio 2016 next month, the RYA is hitting the road and heading to clubs around the UK where anyone can try sailing for FREE as part of the RYA Sail for Gold Roadshow. During the Olympic sailing Medal Race week (14-18 August), the roadshow will visit  six venues across the UK which have a special connection with the sailing team's potential medal contenders.

Join us on the journey at britishsailingteam.com or on Twitter and Instagram @BritishSailing

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