At the Helm: August 2 Morning Briefing

Here we go again in Weymouth. We’re living the sports version of the movie “Groundhog Day” here, and the days have taken on a similar rhythm. They all seem to be exactly the same… in fact, I just changed my topic for today. This is the perfect day for a “day in the life” post. I’ll give you a sense of what my total day looks like, and use that as a lens for what the rest of the team is doing.

So here goes…

5:30am: No alarm needed here in Weymouth and Portland. The seagulls squawk at first light. So as soon as the sun comes up, they are up, which means many of us are up. Some choose to stay in bed. I don’t. (This morning I googled “sea gulls, natural predators,” but unfortunately the first answer that came back was “people.” So, I know what I’m doing tomorrow morning…)

6:30am: After a quick shower and breakfast, I’m down at Camp Billingham, team headquarters, answering emails, keeping up with life back at home, and writing to you. This is when I write “At the Helm.”

8:15am: With meteorologist Doug’s forecast in hand, I head into the venue, for most of the rest of the day. First stop is the sports information desk, where I say good morning to Viv and her gang, fill out some daily paperwork, and grab some ice for our drinks cooler in the team container.

Team boatwright Donnie Brennan at his office, the team’s container at the sailing venue

8:30am: At the team container, I say good morning team boatwright Donnie (who always seems to be there), put the ice in the cooler and tack the daily forecast to the board. The forecast also gets emailed to the whole team, but we like to have it in writing on the board for people to glance at one more time. I usually chat with whoever else is around, and see if anyone needs anything.

9:00am: Team leader meeting. This is a daily gathering of regatta officials and the leaders for all the teams. In this meeting, they review the day’s weather (not every team shows up with their own meteorologist), and go over the plan for the day. There are updates on racing-specific stuff, measurement and rules, and lots of questions from the TLs. These meetings can get quite contentious if the regatta leadership makes a controversial decision of some kind (like deciding to race in too much, or too little, wind). There are shifting alliances in this meeting also, as some countries bond on one issue and then might be bitterly opposed on another. Kind of like our own version of a mini-United Nations! At the end of the meeting, I text my notes to all the coaches.

9:45am (approx): I go check the official notice board for more information, and send more texts to coaches, as needed.

10:00am: Now I’m in the boat park, visiting with coaches and sailors. The first starts of each day are at noon, so anyone with the early starting slot is probably leaving shore at about 10:30-10:45. So I hang out, make some jokes if that is what is called for, or just stay out of the way. There is an art form to reading the body language of an athlete. Sometimes they want to talk. Sometimes they don’t. You have to “meet them where they are” and respect what they seem to need. (Here’s a good clue… headphones on is a clear signal of “leave me alone, please.”)

10:45am: The first sailors are leaving shore, and I make sure I am around the ramp or the dock. Some want to be left alone, but some want me to walk with them down the ramp and give them a fist bump as they go. In a few cases, I try to give a last word of support. In other cases, I allow myself to be their comical punching bag. And in one or two cases, we discuss who looks particularly good in their spandex today.

12:00pm: For those with the later start (2:00pm) the 10:45am routine is repeated.

Early afternoon: This is the only quiet time of day for me. But it’s also the most nerve-wracking part. This is when I sit in the athlete lounge at the venue, and watch the results come in with any coaches not racing that day, and most often with Dave Perry who is here as our rules advisor.

Walking Paige back from the slipway after racing

3:00-5:00pm: Any sailors racing that day are coming in during this window, and each gets a greeting at the dock or the ramp. There are three immediate pieces of information at that moment: I tell them if they are being randomly drug tested, in which case they will be accompanied by one of our physios to monitor the process; they tell me if they are in any protests from the racing, in which case I call Dave Perry so he can get to work; and I tell them if our media director Dana Paxton has any specific media needs for them. I also high-five for a good day, or listen to some venting after a bad day. I always make sure to know their results before they hit shore, so I know how they are likely to be feeling.

6:00pm: Finally, I get back to Camp Billingham, about 10 hours after I left. The rest of our staff is based here, and I check in with them. Do we have any physical problems that are being treated, any issues with sponsors or donors who are in town, any unhappy friends or family that we can manage? Anything at all that came up that day comes onto my radar at that time.

If Kenneth schedules an end-of-day coaches meeting, I might sit in. I visit with any athletes still hanging around, and then it is back to the village for a quick dinner.

Post dinner, it’s cards, a movie, and a FaceTime call home with Emily and Zach. I love my work with this team, but that call is my favorite part of my day.

That’s a quick snapshot… a day in the life of the USA team leader. It’s door-to-door activity here at the Games.

Dean Brenner, Team Leader


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