Wednesday, October 24, 2012


35-year old Mark Ivey found himself in a more curious sailing role this year - coaching the Swedish Star team of Freddy Loof and partner Max Salminen. Curious because it was Loof’s sixth Olympic campaign and Salminen's first, and because the relationship wasn’t initially intended to be a full-time coaching situation but more to help to Freddy evaluate how to get his program back on track.

Whatever, the three-some went all the way to gold. Ivey joins Morgan Reeser*, who coached the Greek Women's 470 team to gold at the 2004 Olympics, as one of the few Americans to coach a foreign gold medal winner in the history of Olympic sailing. For Swedes, it was the only gold medal they won in the Summer Games and the first in eight years. Here Ivey tells how it all transpired:

SB: How did you connect with Freddy?

Freddy and I first met in 2004 at the US Star Olympic Trials in Miami. We became friends and really connected in California working for Pegasus and Phillipe Kahn in 2005-06. We raced a Melges 24 Worlds and an Etchells Worlds together, and did a lot of sailing out of Santa Cruz and the Bay. We stayed in touch throughout the Star events when I was working for the US as a Star coach.

After the pre-Olympic regattas in Weymouth (August 2011), Freddy called me and said he thought he needed to make a coaching change and would I be interested in helping him out. At first I thought it would be more of a come-and-evaluate-life scenario, helping him get the right focus and getting him set up for the campaign. We really get along super well - we’re good mates. It evolved from there and the next thing I knew, I was there with him at every event.

SB: What was not going right for Freddy that you were able to correct?

I think he wanted an outside perspective - someone not directly involved with what he had been doing. Rather than the mechanics or the tuning side of it - I have all that in my skill set but it’s not what he needed - we worked on regatta management and the tactical side of it, performance at events. I tried to help him get back to the passion and enjoyment of it. It often turns into such a business and it’s a grind when you’re going through the same thing repeatedly. We’d had fun when we sailed together previously and I think he respected my tactics and the fact that I was still actively racing.

SB: What were the Swedes' medal chances?

Freddy became ranked number one during our time together after the seven events that I coached. He had two previous medals and this was his 6th Olympics (he won bronze in the Finn at Sydney, and bronze in the Star at Beijing), he’s not a stranger to the Olympics and being in that position. The whole design of everything we did was to peak at the Games and not at any of the previous events. It was almost to our advantage that we hadn’t won a big event leading up to it, the media hype and attention was more focused on Robert Scheidt and Iain Percy (Scheidt had won the past two world championships and Percy was obviously the home town British favorite). I had to believe they had every potential to win and for sure those two teams really stepped up huge, but it helped us stay under the radar. All three teams had secured medals going into the medal race and you’re in the best, deepest, most talented fleet in Olympic sailing so the fact that those three had beaten everyone else to secure medals meant a lot.

SB: What do you teach someone who is already at that level?

That was the almost daunting task. Here I am 35 and asked by someone I totally respect in the industry to help him win a gold medal - LOL. You just become very observant, you figure out how they want to receive information and believe it or not mistakes still happen by guys who are the most talented out there. You can help pick up on trends and what you feel out on the racecourse - little things on their mechanics, teamwork and communication - who does what and how to divvy up the job. Max is 23, Freddy is 42 and I’m 35, so I was a good bridge between the age groups to combine the two of them. While Freddy and I had an established relationship and trust, it was almost a bigger mental challenge to get together with Max and earn his trust and respect - we didn’t know each other so I had to win him over, then we had a great chemistry between the three of us.

SB: What training regimen did you recommend?

It varied - for the Olympic period the training was a lot of sailing on the outside courses where we knew we would be in the wind and the waves. We probably spent more time than most out in the hard, nasty rain and cold and actually made that into a strength. Most people complained about it, but we got into it and turned that into a positive. It wasn’t enjoyable at times but when the time came we were ready for the nasty stuff. There were lots of training camps and our training partner was Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada, so that was a really strong camp, we also had the French team - Xavier Rohert and Alexis-Pierre Ponsot. Percy and Richard Clark and others had their own camp - that’s just how the Olympics works.

On a typical day we would do a morning meeting then go out and train hard on the water. At the beginning we worked a lot on the tactical but toward the end it was really just my support. They knew what the needed to work on so my input was much more service rather than teaching.

SB: Had Freddy sailed with Max together prior?

They started two years ago so they’d done a full year before I joined them. Max had some Finn sailing - he’s in incredible shape, young and active and gave it his everything. Certainly for him to figure out how to present information to Freddy at the right times, he had all the mechanics - that part of it just came because we did so much repetition and so much sailing so it was more of the racing strategy - how to present the stuff at the right times inside the boat at critical race decision moments.

SB: What was it that they did particularly well to win gold?

The format for the Olympics is that you have to get through all the fleet races with everyone to be in a position to go into the medal race and be close enough to do it. The strength was sailing a good enough event to be in position to take advantage of the format which is a double points race at the very end. The medal race had not been a strength - it had been a monkey on Freddy’s back - the medal race in Beijing went all wrong for him where they finished last and dropped to the bronze. We wanted to keep a really calm pace that morning of the medal race (Ed’s note: you can hear the tension in Ivy’s voice as he re-lives this), and the same routines that we had done in meetings, I’d gone through all the mathematical scenarios and just kept it light. We didn’t have the pressure on us this time as the focus was on Percy winning a gold medal and all he needed to do was to beat Scheidt so that was a more of an individual battle - it just worked out that Percy was a little sidetracked on focusing on Scheidt in the middle of the group. On another day that may not have happened but that day it all just came together - that’s the Olympics.

SB: What did you learn from the experience?

The best part was being involved with a completely different side of it, working within a different federation, experiencing the Olympics as an American but through Swedish eyes. The passion of the closing ceremony was one of the most energetic and coolest moments of my life, to be there and walk through the stadium and see how much the athletes pour into the moment there, in every competition, watching them in the dining halls, seeing the Chinese people jump up and scream when they win a swimming gold medal - there’s something about being on the inside as an athlete and a coach - I have just a huge respect for everything that they do to make the event happen.

SB: What’s next for you? More coaching?

This was my first time as an Olympic coach - I was a training partner for JJ Isler and PC Glaser at the Sydney Games where they won silver medal. But this is the first time I was credentialed and got to be inside the Village. I lived in the Swedish team house in the Village - it’s taken a while to get back to normal here - it was just such an amazing experience. It’s been fun to be working the America’s Cup events lately - I’ve done five now - and will continue to see what opportunities are there with the 72s. I’m going to enjoy the fall and take a bit of a break. I’m not actively looking to be involved in Rio. The thing that made it great with Freddy was the people involved. It has to be the right thing. I really want to enjoy it like I did.

SB: What do you think US Olypmpic sailing could focus on?

From where they were say eight years ago, funding levels have gone up, the ability for sailors just to focus on sailing and not to have to do a lot of private fund raising and not have to have a job at the same time - sailors are getting to sail more and compete more which is going to lead to better results and more training. I think there was a good focus on nutrition, health and fitness which is positive, in general there’s a bit more team chemistry. They did really try to make an effort with that. It’s America and we’re resilient and we’re always going to evaluate and move forward and have a better game plan for Rio - it’ll be different equipment, different personnel and people so it’ll be a whole new equation going forward.

If US Sailing can bring back some of the respect - I think being an Olympian is one of the highest achievements that you can have in your career and I think they need to continue to harness that and bring some of the energy and passion back into it from past successful Olympians. If they can achieve that they’ll get the fire going again.

Photo credit: Courtesy Mark Ivey

* About Morgan Reeser

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