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An interview with Leandro Spina on the West Marine US Open Sailing Series

by David Schmidt 1 Apr 16:00 BST April 1, 2021
2021 West Marine US Open Sailing Series – Fort Lauderdale © Ellinor Walters

While the world continues to battle the global coronavirus scourge, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that this mess will eventually be over and that we can (hopefully) go back to focusing on life's finer things, such as winning sailboat races. Fortunately, US Sailing has not taken their eye off the ball during this tough time, and they've been working hard to prepare their athletes for this summer's Tokyo 2021 Olympics, as well as for the Paris 2024 Olympics and the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. Part of this preparation involves the recently announced West Marine US Open Sailing Series, which began with an event at the Lauderdale Yacht Club (January 15-18) and will continue through its final 2021 event, which will be hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club, Treasure Island Sailing Center, San Francisco Yacht Club, and Richmond Yacht Club (August 13-15). Three of these events have been hosted by Florida-based clubs, while the series' second half will be hosted by California-based clubs.

The new series aims to provide opportunities for U.S. (and international) sailors who are interested in Olympic careers with the chance to engage in high-level Olympic class racing without traveling abroad. This has historically been problematic for U.S. Olympic hopefuls without large travel budgets.

The addition of the West Marine US Open Sailing Series will expose U.S. sailors to the intense competition levels that they can expect if they wish to pursue their Olympic dreams. Critically, the West Marine US Open Sailing Series will also enable US Sailing to support participating sailors with advanced-level coaching and data collection.

While the West Marine US Open Sailing Series is open to sailors of all levels, it's anticipated that it will be of particular interest to sailors who are engaged in US Sailing's Olympic Development Program.

I checked in with Leandro Spina, US Sailing's Olympic Development Director, via email, to learn more about this exciting new sailing series.

What are the best aspects/opportunities for U.S.-flagged athletes about the West Marine US Open Sailing Series in terms of qualifying for and ideally medaling in the Olympic Games?

Having high level Olympic-class regattas organized and hosted here in the USA and North America, as well as top training opportunities for the Olympic Development Program (ODP), allows these aspiring athletes to properly plan long-term and balance academics with sailing until they commit to full-time campaigns.

This series helps us improve campaign efficiency for full-time campaigners by being able to conduct domestic training and have more opportunities to develop racing skills here in the USA, before peaking at World Championships.

Is the West Marine US Open Sailing Series more geared towards identifying talented youth and helping them to get on an Olympic track, or will it be a series that functions a bit like the Miami OCR that's a great opportunity for committed Olympic-level sailors to speed check against rivals before their Olympic trials or the actual Olympics?

[It's] both and more. A domestic platform is crucial to a good Olympic campaign plan. Athletes at all levels and on different stages of their campaigns can benefit from having training and racing opportunities here in the U.S.

It is not only about logistics or competition, but there is also an emotional component of being home and really focus on details, plus having the athletes closer to their families, friends, and supporters.

What gap does this series fill in the training/competition calendar of an Olympic-bound (or hopeful) sailor?

The second most positive impact of having this series is for those athletes on the fence regarding Olympic sailing. Now they can try Olympic-class boats and test their good skills against the best, without the need to travel abroad.

There is so much talent in the USA, and everybody can benefit from high-caliber racing and training domestically, including international sailors.

Do you think that this series will ever become part of an Olympic Trials? Can you please explain?

The goal is always to select the best athletes for Team USA. If we continue hosting professionally run events, well-organized and in great sailing venues, we will attract international competition, especially once the world settles down and things improve regarding the pandemic.

As we get closer to the Los Angeles 2028 Games, we expect more and more interest from international teams to come to the USA to train and race, and the US Open is strategically set to offer great value to all Olympic athletes.

We know that the first step to excellence is building the US Open Series and the attached training camps in these fantastic venues. Once we have the domestic machine up and running, we can refine the higher-end strategies and decisions that impact the end game.

The Olympic program studies the trials system every quadrennium, evaluating lessons learned from decades of experience, as well as adapting to the modern lessons and world. With a 2028 Olympics here in LA, combined with the exceptional sailing conditions in Long Beach, the program surely will be considering a possible domestic trials scenario.

But for now, we are rolling up our sleeves, and building the best domestic framework and structure we can, and elevating our young sailors into champions.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

We are extremely grateful for the support of hosting clubs, their members, and volunteers as well as the sponsors supporting this initiative.

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