Under Construction: Dutch sailing excellence
SCHEVENINGEN _ The Dutch won 2 sailing medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 3 at London 2012. That so-so harvest helps fuel a quest for excellence in sports. Key to that is a national sailing academy that opened in 2009 to inject more professionalism and innovation in shaping sailing talent. Located in the North Sea port of Scheveningen, it offers training, schooling, student housing and an attractive offshore racing site. Crucially, it also boasts an ‘InnosportLab’ that explores innovative coaching techniques, new materials, ergonomics and sports management tools.
The International Top Sailing Center is part of a bid to nudge the Netherlands into the world Top-10 of sports by 2028. A 2011 study concluded the Netherlands must “take the lead in developing new sports products, training methods and nutrition as well as sports facilities.” The study was commissioned by InnoSportNL, a group dedicated to merging private sector expertise, scientific research and sports. It runs 5 sports labs _ working in and around swimming, skating, sailing, gymnastics and sports in general _ and plans to open a 6th soon.
The sailing lab analyzes coaching methods, tactics, wind and water resistance, clothing, sailors’ heart rate frequency and on-board communications. “After Beijing we wanted more, better training opportunities. We wanted to attract more training specialists,” says Edwin Lodder, head of the Dutch training center. It focuses on medical, physical, nutritional, mental and lifestyle-coaching. Lodder credits it for an extra medal at London 2012 where the Dutch won gold in men’s windsurfing, silver in the women’s Laser Radial and bronze in the women’s 470.
“Our goal, of course, is to win more medals at Rio in 2016 and beyond. We are now looking at medal targets for 2016 and 2020 but as yet have no hard numbers,” says Lodder. Because sailing lacks the mega-funds that always find soccer, tennis or track and field, sailing authorities must be cost-effective, work small-scale and reach out. The Dutch sailing academy is a collaborative venture. Sponsors include the Dutch Delta Lloyd banking-insurance company and sports wear maker Gaastra. The City of The Hague built a boat ramp in 2010 and helps out with student housing and schooling, along with nearby Delft University. Health care is organized through the Dutch Olympic Committee. “It’s important young sailors can follow a training program whereby sailing and study dovetail. We can accommodate promising youngsters from high school age on. We now we cater to 50 or so talented youngsters,” Lodder told Zeilen magazine.
The academy is also a boon to the private sector and researchers. It lets them try out new products before they go to the marketplace. This can be very profitable. Ask the makers of Gatorade, a thirst-quencher originally developed for American college football.