Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sailing a course for London 2012

Skandia Team GBR sailor Chris Grube and Laser Coach Chris Gowers both have strong connections to North Wales. They took time out of their hectic schedule to tell Sport Wales about their preparations and hopes for an Olympic sailing legacy.

Sailor Chris Grube, 26, is a member of the Skandia Team GBR Performance Squad. Hailing from Chester, the 470 crewman actually honed his skills at Bala Sailing Club after his dad first took him on the lake at the tender age of ten.
“With a year to go until the games I think the perspective is very different from an athlete’s point of view compared to looking in from the outside. We as a team are very much heads down and focussing hard on our own selection events as part of our Olympic trials.

“The Sailing venue was one of the first to be completed which has been great as we've had so much time to get used to using the facilities down here in Weymouth. One of the main things you notice is the amount of interest from not only the media but the British public, you really get the sense that everyone is behind the team which makes it a very special event to compete in.
Nick (Rogers) and I are both really happy with our progress. We are a very new team having joined forces only last December. I have to admit the last six months have flown by, with us having a very intense programme to get us on the pace quickly.

“We have a great coach in Nathan Wilmot, who won the Gold last time round for the Australian team in Beijing, and he's already turned us into one of the fastest teams in the World. We still have a lot to learn but having won the selection for the test event at Skandia Sail for Gold regatta we are very confident we can do it.

“When Nick and I teamed up in December I already knew who would coach us without even asking! Nathan is one of the most successful 470 sailors ever and we knew he'd be a great coach for us. Nick gave him a call and he agreed to come over from Sydney where it was summer to Lymington where it was snowing! His knowledge of the boat is amazing. We wouldn’t have got this far so quickly without Nathan and so in that respect we are really grateful to him.

“I think the main benefit of being the host nation is that it raises participation in Sport. Watching athletes at the top of their game is a great advert for sport and a healthy lifestyle (a hot topic in the media at the moment). Sailing is seen as an expensive sport, and once you get to Olympic level it is, but you can pick up a boat for club use for as little as 300 pounds.

“I've been involved as a coach in supporting grassroot programmes in North Wales, and at my home sailing club at Bala, and I think if we can make it easy and inexpensive for people to go sailing at their local clubs then the sport can really benefit from a growth in people taking part. It’s also important to make it a family activity to see continuity beyond 2012.”

Chris Gowers, 43, is the Laser Coach for Skandia Team GBR’s sailing team. This vastly experienced former Olympic sailor, turned coach, hails originally from Southmead but currently calls Y Felinheli home.

“We always hold a trial regatta the year before an Olympics. Once the test event is finished it’s then suddenly very hard to ignore the fact that the Olympics are on their way. We hope to do well (at the test event) but our priority is to learn as much as we can about how the regatta is going to be run next year.  Over the next six months we’ll select the team and then work hard to build up our knowledge base to make sure we get the best possible results.

“Having the Olympic races here in Weymouth should probably give us somewhat of an advantage. But if you look at the amount of time other countries are spending there then the margin is narrowing because at the Olympic Test Event alone we’re expecting around 57 countries to compete. On the other hand we’ll also have the intense media exposure to deal with, so there are pros and cons.

“Our hope is that people will get enthused by London 2012 and want to give sailing a go and get hooked for life. The Welsh Yachting Association (WYA) use Pwllheli a lot for competitions and have suggested it as an Olympic training venue. So that centre alone should provide better race training for budding elite athletes and hopefully increase participation in general.”

Visit www.welshsailing.org to find out more about sailing opportunities near you.