The Amazing Race Posted by Reef Magazine - 5 August 2013 In 2004 a group influential businessmen met in Melbourne to dissect Australia’s lacklustre sailing performance in Athens, and to start planning a resurrection. Fast forward to August last year at Hamilton Island when the golden Australian Sailing Team (AST) touched down for their official homecoming. As part of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, almost the entire AST, including seven of the eight medallists and many of its patrons, visited the island as part of their whirlwind return from London before they were whisked away to various capital city tickertape parades. Being met by their peers at their original training ground and home of the Oatley family, who are as important to the team as the athletes themselves according to Olympic sailing’s head coach, Victor Kovalenko, marked a fitting and meaningful arrival back to home soil. “Going to Hamilton Island was very special for the team,” said Women’s Match Racing silver medallist Lucinda Whitty. “It was lovely to have the parade down Front Street and we felt very privileged to stay at qualia to rest and unwind, it was exactly what we needed after the madness, as well as the perfect opportunity to get together and talk about our experience at the Olympics.” Ukrainian born Kovalenko became head coach in the wake of the Sydney Games. On the team’s success last year at Weymouth, which pulled Australia’s overall result up by the bootstrap, he says, “It was much more than individuals and even much more than the team. It was the critical mass of passion of the Australian sailing community to beat the Poms in their territory. “All people were sailing and racing with us and there was common success and common failure. We had very strong patron and sponsor support including Audi and also Hamilton Island, one of our most loyal and most reliable partners. “With their early help we also won our medals in Beijing because we were training in light winds and strong current, like at Hamilton Island, and that was the key to our success.” Conditions in Rio are likely to mirror Beijing, warm and tidal. “We definitely still consider Hamilton Island as our capital of sailing. There will be a lot of current in Rio and it’s quite warm so the island will again be a good model,” adds Kovalenko. The AST’s training base has moved to Middle Harbour Yacht Club in Sydney however team members continue to enjoy financial and fundraising support, and mentoring particularly by patriarch of the Oatley family as the AST’s “spiritual leader”, Bob Oatley, and executive chairman of Hamilton Island, son Sandy Oatley. Mat Belcher, London 470 gold medallist and multiple world champion agrees, “The personal relationship with the Oatley family has been extremely important for the team, not only from the financial side but also the confidence their business stature builds and their knowledge and mentoring role within the team.” Belcher and his 470 crew, Malcolm Page, touched down at Hamilton Island with the AST less than a fortnight after standing atop the Olympic dais. “What made it so special was the recognition from the sailing community, to see everyone together at the same place and to celebrate our success and the moment was a fantastic feeling,” Belcher recalls. In most of the leading classes preparations have commenced for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. With mixed multihull and 49erFX added to the mix, this phase is about new classes and new crew combinations. Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen have joined Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup team and have ambitions to defend their 49er gold medal in Rio. Belcher has signed up for another shot in the 470 class with new crewmember, Will Ryan, while Laser gold medallist Tom Slingsby is tied up with the Oracle Team USA America’s Cup team for now, yet to announce whether he will run again in the single-handed class. With Women’s Match Racing dropped from the Rio Games, the silver medal winning team of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty are trialling other classes. Whitty may try for a double-handed Nacra 17 campaign, Price is now training in a 49erFX and Nina Curtis is doing a double campaign for this year – 49erFX and Nacra 17 – until she works out her preference. The Olympics is a rolling program for organisers, officials and athletes and preparations are in motion for Australia to prove its sailing success in London was no fluke. In an interview with The Australian newspaper this year, Peter Conde, performance director of the AST and one of the original founding group who met at Royal Brighton Yacht Club nine years ago warned, “We’ve had success but we have to now move forward, otherwise we will be overrun by the rest of the world. It is as simple as that.” About the Author 'REEF Magazine – Hamilton Island & the Great Barrier Reef' is a magazine that showcases all that Hamilton Island has to offer, from events, to an exciting array of activities, attractions and more. You can pick up your complimentary copy of 'REEF Magazine' at any Hamilton Island hotel, and you can also access some of our feature articles right here on The Island Blog.