AFLOAT: Rio, here we come: Park

Dorset Echo: FOCUSED; Stephen Park FOCUSED; Stephen Park

AS 2013 draws to a close, British Sailing Team manager Stephen Park reflects on recent shake-ups within the sport and looks ahead to the race for Rio.

Park, has been leading Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic talent since 2001, through the Athens, Beijing and London Olympic Games.

His team is looking to win back the mantle of most successful Olympic sailing nation from the Australians at the Rio 2016 Games.

This year, British sailors collected 70 medals at major regattas around the world and Great Britain topped the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) world ranking list.

But from 2014, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro.

Park said: “The year ahead is going to see the journey to the Rio 2016 Games really kick into action, with the first nations qualifying for the Olympics at the Santander 2014 Worlds in Sept-ember, straight after the first official 2016 Test Event in Rio, where sailors from around the world will do battle for the first time in official competition on the Olympic waters.

“Hopefully we may even see the first test event for Paralympic sailors, to parallel the journey taken by their Olympic colleagues.

“It is far from confirmed, but it would be a great step forward in my opinion as ISAF and Internat-ional Assoc-iation for Disabled Sail-ing attempt to bring the Olympic and Paralympic aspects of our sport closer together following their merger.”

The 2016 Games will debut the new Nacra 17 mixed catamaran and 49erFX women’s skiff classes, plus there will be familiar faces racing as new teams.

Recent partnership changes included Portland’s Stu Bithell crewing with skipper John Pink in the 49er class, while his former team-mate Chris Grube has teamed up with Olympic veteran Stevie Morrison.

Park added: “This year has also been tinged with sadness, having lost an Olympic great and a dear friend in Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson.

“Although Bart was no longer campaigning, he was still invol-ved with the British Sailing Team, giving ad-vice to the sailors and sharing his knowledge and experiences as part of our Olympic Steering Group, which shapes the priorities and direction of our programme.

“We miss his presence, but will honour him by ‘just crack- ing on with it’, as he would say.”

Other shake-ups have included changes to the proposed Olympic racing format, with mid-point reserve days added, and a revised version of the Sailing World Cup, to begin in late 2014 with entries limited to the top 25 international sailors in each class.

Park said: “The existing Oly-mpic and Paralympic classes, now all confirmed for Tokyo 2020, gives great security to Britain’s up-and-coming sailors.”

January will see many British sailors heading to Rio for some early racing before moving on to Miami for the ISAF Sailing World Cup.

Park added: “It is going to be flat out, right through to the San-tander Worlds in September.

“It will be hard work for the sailors, coaches and support staff, but all of them are totally committed to the cause.

“I can’t wait – Rio here we come.”

Find out more about the team at britishsailingteam.com

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