When you put someone like Ian Walker in the position of Director of Sailing at the RYA, what you get is logical decisions rooted in analysis, fact, deep data and an innate seat-of-the-pants instinct that only someone who’s been there and done that can initiate. The latest announcement of new, exciting, vibrant, pathway pairings fusing talent with medallists and experience in the GB Olympic programme fill me with hope and excitement and yet again, we stand back in amazement at what this nucleus of excellence is building for the future. The rest of the world needs to sit up and take notice. GBR is coming again like thunder.
The other nations, who have all eyed, spied, marvelled and attempted to copy the British Olympic sailing programme, are starting to quake in their neoprene boots. And so they should. It’s another cycle, building on the multi-golden generations that have dominated for so long and with Walker’s vision and the support of an outstanding, world-class team at the RYA that leaves literally no stone unturned, we can look forward to Paris 2024 (or is it Marseille 2024?) and start seriously looking at where those medals will be won.
The pairing of the brilliant, hugely talented, even more likeable Eilidh MacIntyre with the up and coming star of 470s, Martin Wrigley, is one that I am so excited to watch. Wrigley was the tune-up partner for Luke Patience leading up to Tokyo and his time is now. Personally, I think Eilidh is set to be the new Queen of British Yachting, if she’s not already, and I can’t help but massively warm to her personality and sheer, downright honesty.
Where do you go after climbing the highest mountain and winning Gold in the most magnificent fashion with the most successful female sailing Olympian of all time? Motivation post Olympic success is something that brighter people than me have written about at length. It’s a very real phenomena and Eilidh has been right through that tumble dryer of emotions with real class and guts and emerged out the other side. Her ‘drive’ as she calls it, is back (and it’s a heck of a drive) so teaming with Wrigley is logically brilliant in the now mixed 470. Their rapid progress is going to be fascinating to watch. I’ll call it from here – a medal awaits this team.
Joining MacIntyre in the return pathway are the likes of Dylan Fletcher and the outright social media star Saskia Tidey who both have new partners in the 49er and 49erFX classes respectively and these experienced Olympians will be imparting invaluable knowledge and nous to their pathway helms. Brilliant that they are back and so committed to the next generation.
Dylan Fletcher has joined with Rhos Hawes who is a name that we are going to hear so much more about in the coming Olympic cycle – one of the true rising stars of British sailing. And Saskia is calling the bow for 20 year old Freya Black who has the temperament and talent to go all the way to Gold and a whole lot more. Watch this space, there’s real talent being collated here.
When the last generation of British Olympic sailors hung up their boots, many of us thought that, well, we’d had a great run and that something tremendous, un-repeatable was truly coming to an end. In a way it was, but looking at what Ian Walker and his team have instigated is inspiring and aspirational. The next golden generation is set.
The algorithm of ultimate success has seen the first equation solved – and to be honest I expected nothing less of the Cambridge graduate – and the platform that Walker will now set will be top drawer, backed by huge National Lottery funding derived, quite rightly, from the success of the past.
The devil will now be in the performance detail and it’s here where Walker and his team excel. Nothing is left to chance. The blueprint set by the likes of Sid Howlett, Jez Fanstone, Sparky et al, burns bright but after Tokyo, Walker stepped out of any lingering shadows to design his own blueprint – and it’s brilliant. Yes the sailors, kiters, foilers, boarders all have to perform but if there’s medals in them, Walker will find it.
Around the world there’s dynamite competition lurking in every regatta and this foreshortened Olympic cycle, on paper, isn’t helpful. Neither too is the mixing up of the genders and massive format and boat changes but those are just the kind of problems that Ian Walker revels in. Simply put, there couldn’t be a better person in charge of British Olympic sailing. He’s reset the dial and my goodness it’s alive, kicking and snorting. Fabulous to see.
My respect for the man goes back thirty-two years to when he was sailing with the late, great Jonny Merricks and has stayed through Cup campaigns in 2000 and 2007, ultimate Volvo success in 2015 and don’t forget, two silver medals – Savannah 1996 and Sydney 2000. He’s one of the greatest of the golden generation and thoroughly earns every success.
Pull off another medal haul in Marseille and it’s: ‘Sir Ian’ for sure – although many of us call him that already…and World Sailing with a bit of vision would be wise to come knocking at the next Presidential election.
It’s Walker’s World – we just happen to live in it.