As a long time sailor who has competed all over the world, Ben Richardson always wanted his family to be involved in a sport that is not always spectator friendly.
In the coming weeks at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Richardson, a Gloucester native, will be taking care of the US Sailing Team Sperry's families during the games. Serving as the Chairman of the Olympic Sailing committee, Richardson will be taking care of the athlete's families during the games. The sailing events begin on Monday and run through August 18.
"It sounds mundane, but I remember as an athlete competing in the Pan Am Games and several Olympic Trials I desperately wanted my family to be involved because they had supported me so much to help make it happen," Richardson said. "But at the same time, I wasn't used to them being at a regatta with me and they weren't used to being there either."
It is a difficult line to walk for the athlete's families at the Olympic Games. There is little access to the athletes at the games and while the main focus is on the sport they put their heart and soul into and train for years to reach the pinnacle of the sport, it is still comforting to have one's family around.
Access to the Olympic Village is reserved for athletes, coaches and team members only, which means the families have separate lodging.
That's where Richardson's role comes in to play. The Gloucester native, who is flying into Rio on Friday night, will be in charge of giving the families the optimal Olympic experience.
"It makes for an awkward combination of the athlete feeling an extra responsibility and expectations on the part of the family, all when you're trying to put in the performance of your lifetime," Richardson said. "Combine that with the fact that at the Olympics, families have very little access to athletes. The families need someone from the inside to make them feel like they are close to it all even though they really can't be."
Given his experience in the sport, Richardson, a Harvard University grad who also serves on the board of Directors for US Sailing, is the perfect man for the job. The 40-year-old has been sailing for the better part of three decades and has racked up several accolades along the way.
He took part in the Olympic trials four times, competed in the 2003 Pan Am Games and took home the a World title at the 2011 World Laser Masters championship in San Francisco.
Richardson will be the last member of the US Olympic Sailing Committee to make the trek to Rio, and as a result, he is taking care of last minute items that athletes may need including some unusual requests.
"I am also there to take care of the athletes in any way that I can," he said. "One of the funny things I'm doing is bringing over 20 boxes of Starbucks instant coffee with me. The athletes are already in the Olympic Village and apparently the coffee is not very good there. So they called me up and asked me to bring down some Starbucks for them. If it helps, I'm all for it."
United States team ahead of the curve on water conditions
One of the big controversies surrounding the 2016 Summer Games is the water quality in Guanabara Bay, where the Olympic Sailing events will take place.
According to multiple media reports the water in the area is polluted and littered.
The US Sailing Team, however, has been far ahead of the curve on the issue as Richardson says it has been conducting independent water tests in the area since 2014.
"Most of the pictures you see in the press are taken several miles up the bay from where the races are actually happening," Richardson said. "There is not as much trash as the press has portrayed. From a biological standpoint, it's still fairly dirty. Athletes have spent hundreds of hours training there with no issues whatsoever. We're hopeful it won't be an issue during the games."
Despite all of the controversy leading up to the games, Richardson says the US Sailing Team Sperry has had no hesitation when it comes to competing.
"This is the pinnacle of the sport for sailing," Richardson said. "It's understandable for a pro golfer or basketball player to drop out when they just won a NBA championship or a major tournament. But these athletes have been training for years to get here."
As for the US Sailing Team Sperry's chances, Richardson says there are multiple medal hopefuls.
"It varies with each events but I'd say we have a chance to medal in four different classes," he said. "Sailboat racing is really tricky though, it's unpredictable from day to day. Far more unpredictable than your track and field or swimming events."