Despite his parents living in Helensburgh, Stephen Park, known universally throughout the yachting community as ‘Sparky’, was actually born in Glasgow on the 24th February 1968. He attended Hermitage Primary School and Hermitage Academy, and learnt his sailing in Mirror dinghies and 420s at Helensburgh Sailing Club. With his brother Ian, also a keen sailor, they represented the Academy and won the Scottish Schools Championship. It was an indicator of things to come.
Stephen has since said of the sailing club that “Helensburgh SC is one of best places in the UK to go sailing. It has great history, a fantastic record of producing sailors who have gone on to represent GBR at the Olympics, Round the World races and other top international sailing events, and will always be the sailing club I regard as home.”
On leaving Hermitage Academy, he took a BA degree in sport at the Scottish School of Physical Education at Jordanhill, then left home to do an MSc in Recreation Management at Loughborough University, then a postgraduate diploma in management studies at Newcastle Business School.
After completing his education, Sparky went on to work for the Royal Yachting Association Scotland and the Welsh Yachting Association.
A naturally gifted and talented sailor, Stephen competed in both the 470 and Tornado disciplines at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games respectively.
In 2001, at the age of 33, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) confirmed Sparky’s appointment as the new Olympic Manager. At the time Sparky commented: “I am honoured to be given the opportunity to lead the world’s most successful Olympic sailing team towards the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. I will do my best to ensure that the sailors in the World Class Performance Programme get every opportunity to realise their dreams”.
The role involves managing and implementing the RYA World Class Performance (WCP) programme as well as membership of the Olympic Steering Group (OSG), Paralympic Steering Group (PSG) and RYA World Class Performance Directorate-essentially running the Olympic Programme.
Athens 2004 represented his first Olympics as Manager. With Sparky at the helm, Great Britain won five medals in total (two gold, one silver and two bronze) and was the Games’ most successful sailing nation as well as sailing being Britain’s most successful sport. His leadership won him and the team many awards, including a BBC South Sport manager of the year title.
Four years later and Beijing 2008, catapulted Sparky into the Nation’s consciousness. With Team GB starting the Games so well, with gold medals in cycling in swimming and cycling, the watching populace was suddenly supporting every sport in which Britain had a medal hope.
Expectations were high and the sailing team did not disappoint. Under Sparky’s guidance, the team took medals in six of 11 contests entered – four golds, a silver and a bronze in events where only one competitor from each country can take part.
His contribution was recognised when he won the Coach of the Year Award 2008 at the Sunday Mail and Sport Scotland Scottish Sports Awards ahead of Rangers football manager Walter Smith and Bob Torrance, coach of 2008 British Open and US PGA Championship golf champion Padraig Harrington.
On receiving his award, Sparky commented: “I’d never have expected to beat the Rangers manager Walter Smith in Glasgow – especially not coming from a sport that’s relatively low profile in Scotland.”
And he promised that there would be no let-up in Weymouth for London 2012 now that Britain has topped the medal standings in sailing for three consecutive Olympics.
“The aim is to win in every class and we’ll have 10 opportunities, rather than the 11 we had in Beijing, when we get to 2012 but rest assured we will be going into that regatta with people that we believe are capable of winning in every single discipline,” he said.
In the event Sailing hit its medal target of five at London 2012, with the coveted gold for Sir Ben Ainslie and four silver, one of which was won by Helensburgh’s Luke Patience.
“To have come away with medals in 50% of the events, we’ve got to be really happy with that,” said Stephen post the Olympics.
Sparky continued the success at the 2016 Rio Games with Team GB once again topping the Sailing Medal Table.
In 2017, Stephen swapped Olympic Sports to become British Cycling’s first Performance Director since 2014. Over the 15 years that he spent with the Sailing team he managed four Olympic cycles, amassing 23 Olympic and Paralympic medals during his time at the helm.
When he is not managing, Sparky still enjoys sailing – particularly Keelboat racing on the Solent – near the Titchfield home he shares with his wife Julia and daughter Grace.
Away from the water, motorsports, mountain biking and skiing all feature strongly amongst Stephen’s hobbies.
Stephen was awarded an OBE in the 2008 New Year’s honours list.
Images of Stephen Park used by permission ©Skandia Team GBR