August 19, 2012

Aussie Success - Another Perspective

By Doug
Korean Master Worlds - Aussie debrief beverages
Having lived in both Australia and the US, I have a pretty good feeling for what makes Aussie sailors so competitive. Where do I begin? How can a country with less people than southern California produce so many great sailors?

A major factor is the passion that the Aussies have for all sports. They play Aussie rules football and in Melbourne alone there are ten teams that play each other. Imagine an NFL city playing five games at the same time!  Here are some examples of the Aussie sailing passion that come to mind.

Aussie sailors have many classes to choose from. If you're a speed junkie, you can sail a skiff with more than 1,000 square feet of sail. If you like to tinker, you can design and make your own hull and sails and compete with other NS-14 sailors. If you're a competition junkie, there is nothing as pure as the Aussie Lasers.

In the mid-70's I was fortunate to be a part of the Balmoral Beach Laser fleet in Sydney. It was amazing and had some of the best sailing of my life. There were no facilities and no dues - it was just a beach where everyone met. Heck, you were lucky if you could even find a nearby parking place. But the sailing was world-class, and the sailors in that fleet went on to win more than a dozen world champions in multiple classes. The format was simple - show up, sail, and then talk about it over a few beers. 

The Aussies know how to work hard (at sailing) and play hard (after sailing). They take their sailing very seriously, but they know when to kick back and enjoy. Consider yourself lucky if they invite you to join them after a hard day on the water. At one Master Worlds, the hosts had trouble hooking up the beer keg. After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, the Aussies left and the party was over.

They encourage and welcome competition. Before the Master Worlds in Terrigal I wanted to practice on Sydney Harbor with friends and was supplied with a really good Laser. After several days of hard practice, I was charged the "mate rate" charter fee - a bottle of wine. I made sure that it was a good one.

While Aussie mateship is strong, they expect everyone to know the rules and they do not cut any slack when on the water. I remember one Master Worlds race where we were sailing the outer trapezoid course. At the bottom of the run, an Aussie was in first, jibed, and went screaming off on the lower reach... instead of heading back upwind again. No one called him back. They expect everyone to know the rules.

For the recent Master Worlds in Brisbane, I arrived early to get used to the conditions that were sure to be different than the little biddy waves we get in Dallas. I was there for nearly three weeks and every single day a lone 470 went out to practice. It was Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page. Some days it was windy and lots of fun, and other days it was very light and boring. But out they went on their own every day to practice. And they won Olympic gold.

So, it's really simple: have a passion, work hard, know the rules, love competition, and practice, practice, practice. The best example of this I have seen here in the US is Paul Foerster preparing for the Athens Olympics. And yes, he too won Olympic gold.

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