Until a few years ago, sailors from the US had only one obstacle standing between them and going to the next Olympics: winning a stand-alone, winner-take-all, domestic Trials event.
Over the past two decades the depth of participation declined, while the bar for serious preparation and international success moved ever higher. No longer was it possible to take a few months off from work or school to train, and then show up and win the Olympic Trials. By 2005, serious campaigns had become full-time, four- to eight-year commitments.
At the 2008 Olympic Trials, several classes had single-digit fleets. One class—the Yngling—saw only one team complete the Trials process. Clearly the old model wasn’t working anymore. So in 2009, USSailing announced that the 2012 Trials would be based on the final results at two international events. Just like the other powerhouses in Olympic sailing had been doing for years.
Only a few days after the final event, I’d like to declare the new system a success. No longer are athletes “distracted” in their training for the Olympics by their preparation for a US Trials. Now our Olympians have to perform on the world stage to earn their Olympic berths, a much better path to success at the Games themselves.
The system, however, still has room for improvement. The two regattas should ideally be less than six months apart. And next time around, USSailing’s signature event—the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta—should be included in the mix. With a little tweaking, it seems like a no-brainer to use this international qualification going forward.
Finally, I’d like to send out a special holiday greeting to the many sailors who did not win their Trials. The success of our Olympic Team depends on all of you who trained so hard and made this system work. Thank you for your colossal commitment, and best wishes for 2012 and beyond.
Photos courtesy US Sailing Team Alphagraphics
Perth 2011 Results