St. Mary's coach Laser sharp

The Baltimore Sun

The first modern Olympic regatta was sailed a century ago in London in big boats with big crews in big winds.

This year, it's little boats with small crews and tiny winds.

That combination means sailors and their coaches will have to be adaptable and patient, just the formula used by Olympic Laser sailor Andrew Campbell and his coach, Bill Ward, over the past five years.

Ward is director of sailing at St. Mary's College. Before that, he coached at Georgetown University, where he trained Campbell, who was named national collegiate Sailor of the Year three years ago and is ranked 15th in the world in the Laser class.

The two men share some resume similarities. Both men consider Southern California home, both captained the Georgetown team and both earned All-America honors. But their partnership goes beyond that.

"Andrew combines natural talent with a sophisticated understanding of the game. I think I'm pretty good about giving him information and feedback in all aspects of the game. I also try to keep him in the right mental state for success," Ward says.

Ward graduated from Georgetown in 1996 and coached at Washington College before returning to Georgetown in 2005 as the team's second full-time coach. After years of trying to coax Ward to come to southern Maryland, Adam Werblow, St. Mary's head sailing coach, succeeded two years ago.

"Bill's one of the elite coaches in the United States," Werblow says. "He's not excitable. He's good under pressure and thinks rationally. He's cool, exactly the same in the ninth inning with the bases loaded as he is at the top of the first."

Ward also remains a top-flight sailor. Last year, he won the Lightning North American Championship.

At St. Mary's College, Ward was part of the coaching team that won three 2007 national championships. Earlier this year, Sailing World ranked the college's co-ed and women's sailing teams No. 1 in the country.

In announcing his selection in March as USA Sailing's 2007 Coach of the Year, team officials noted: "Wherever he coaches, sailors exhibit distinct performance improvements . . . His experience, patience and clarity motivate sailors to reach within themselves for new levels of achievement."

After the collegiate season, Ward coached the U.S. team to two gold medals - one earned by Campbell - and a bronze at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Then he guided Campbell during the Olympic trials, when a head-to-head duel with Brad Funk came down to the final two days of sailing, with Campbell six points behind. On the penultimate day of competition, Campbell took a five-point lead. Funk came back to tie, but Campbell won on a tiebreaker.

"The trials were great preparation for dealing with the pressure of the Olympic regatta," Ward says. "The challenge now is sailing against a fleet comprised of the best Laser sailors in the world."

But, Werblow says, that's where Ward brings out the best in his sailors.

"Sailing is not a 10-second sport, it's a marathon," Werblow says. "Bill has a dry sense of humor. When pressure-cooker situations come, if you can't have fun in those moments, you're simply not going to perform. Bill provides a sense of normalcy."

The Olympic regatta runs through Aug. 21, with the Laser class racing for a week starting tomorrow. There are 43 entries in the class, which uses identical dinghies nearly 14 feet long with a sail area of 76 square feet.

Campbell won't have to contend with Great Britain's Ben Ainslie, the three-time gold medalist who switched to the Finn class for the 2004 Olympics, or 2004 gold medalist Robert Scheidt of Brazil, who will sail in the Star class. But that doesn't mean the field is thin.

"The Laser class has more competitive depth than any other fleet at the Games. There are at least 15 guys who could medal," Ward says. "Most of the guys ranked ahead of him will be at the Games. If you had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Australia's Tom Slingsby, the world No. 1 and two-time defending world champion."

Ward says Olympic sailing differs from collegiate regattas in that the courses are much longer and are usually in more open bodies of water.

"From a coaching perspective, this changes what you emphasize in training and your role on race day," he says. "The length of the races puts a premium on boat speed, so we end up spending the majority of training time working on speed. During competition, you are much farther from the action than in college sailing. You collect information for your sailor like wind and current readings and provide general support."

The great equalizer at the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center, located 1,000 miles from Beijing, will be the elements. Volunteers have cleared Fushan Bay of a thick mat of algae that drifted in two weeks ago, and organizers have placed massive floating barriers beyond the race courses in hopes of preventing its return. But sailors know with its light air and strong currents, the bay won't play favorites.

The Olympic regatta will use a new format to decide the winners. After 11 races (except the 49er, which has 16), the 10 boats with the lowest scores will compete in the Medal Race, a 30-minute sprint.

"I like the medal race; it creates a lot of excitement," Ward says.

The U.S. still leads the overall Olympic sailing medal tally with 57, followed by Great Britain, 44, and Sweden, 32. But that supremacy is losing steam. Over the last three Olympics, U.S. sailors have won eight medals while Great Britain has scooped up 12.

The U.S. team could medal in the 49er, Yngling and Laser Radial classes, and it is always competitive in the Star class.

Campbell would like to add to the U.S. total.

"Every regatta I've ever sailed in my life, every day that I went out sailing after school, every fork and spoon tactic talk I had with dad ... will culminate with this Olympic regatta," Campbell wrote in his blog.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad