RIO OLYMPICS 2016: 10 DAYS TO GO

Olympics: Brett Beyer's coaching record proves a steady sail for Singapore sailors

Australian Brett Beyer is an 11-time world Laser Masters champion, and is the longest-serving coach for Singapore's Olympic sailors, having guided four sailors to qualification for four straight Games since Athens 2004. Many who have trained under hi
Australian Brett Beyer is an 11-time world Laser Masters champion, and is the longest-serving coach for Singapore's Olympic sailors, having guided four sailors to qualification for four straight Games since Athens 2004. Many who have trained under his wing regard him as kin. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF BRETT BEYER, AJAY RAU
Australian Brett Beyer is an 11-time world Laser Masters champion, and is the longest-serving coach for Singapore's Olympic sailors, having guided four sailors to qualification for four straight Games since Athens 2004. Many who have trained under hi
COLIN CHENG (left), Singapore national sailor, on his coach Brett Beyer.

Australian's distinguished coaching record marked by life lessons he imparts to charges

There is no faster time to clock nor a better distance to post in sailing, but Brett Beyer can hold claim to a record even before the Olympic Games begins next week.

The Rio de Janeiro Games will be the fourth straight time the Australian, who currently coaches national sailor Colin Cheng, has helped send Singapore sailors to the world's most prestigious sporting spectacle.

Few have coached the Republic's athletes - in any sport - for more than a decade, much less at the Olympic level.

But to lead local sailors to qualification for the quadrennial event in four consecutive Games, in what is arguably the most competitive and physically-demanding dinghy class, is a feat in a league of its own.

Beyer, who started working with Singapore in 2003, began the "streak" with Stanley Tan at the Athens Games, then Koh Seng Leong and Lo Man Yi at the Beijing edition, before helping Cheng meet the cut for the London and Rio Games.

FAMILY-LIKE BONDS

Brett understands what is required to succeed. He's a very qualified sailor himself, and understands Laser sailing very well... We have a very good working relationship, (but) it's not just a coach-sailor relationship. We're essentially family.

COLIN CHENG, Singapore national sailor, on his coach Brett Beyer.

"It only dawned on me just this Olympics, but it's something I'm very proud of," Beyer, who turns 50 today, told The Straits Times from Sydney, where he is based.

"It's not an easy task to qualify for the Olympic Games in the Laser, which is very much a professional class. There are only 40 odd spots and generally 70 to 80 nations vying for them.

"It's not something that's just happened - it's very deliberate and structured. But I've always felt that if we have the right programme, committed sailors and are achieving benchmarks, it shouldn't be too difficult to qualify and that's the way it's worked the last couple of Olympics."

Beyer's trainees from Norway, Ireland and South Africa have also qualified for the Aug 5-21 Games.

He was the Singapore Sailing Federation's national Olympic Laser coach before he was part of an exodus of top-level staff in 2011.

The parting, which followed the arrival of new management, was less than amicable, although Beyer maintains it is now water under the bridge for him.

He recalled: "A lot of the comments made then really hurt, and made me feel like all the work I had put in was meaningless.

"Even back then, I was very proud of my contribution to Singapore sailing and the help I've given athletes along the way.

"But I always focus on how athletes can become better, what's my role in that, and although the federation moved in a different direction, I really wanted to make sure that wasn't the impact on the sailors' ambitions."

Beyer continued to work with Cheng after his departure, with the sailor training in Sydney and, for a period, paying coaching fees out of his own pocket. Their partnership led to a 15th-place finish at Cheng's Olympic debut in 2012, Singapore's best at that level.

"Brett understands what is required to succeed. He's a very qualified sailor himself, and understands Laser sailing very well," said Cheng, who will again compete in the Laser class in Rio.

Beyer is an 11-time world Masters champion in the Laser class, his latest crown coming from this year's edition in Mexico.

Yet for the ones who have worked closest with him, what sets the Australian apart is not that he is a good coach, but that he is also regarded as kin.

"We have a very good working relationship, (but) it's not just a coach-sailor relationship. We're essentially family," said Cheng.

Koh, who has since retired from competitive sailing, readily offers anecdotes too - many of them about incidents away from boats and off the water.

It includes digging up potatoes with Beyer's parents-in-law on their farm in England and selling them at the market. There are also tales of how life lessons imparted by Beyer have gone on to influence Koh's business decisions.

"Brett has taught me not just sailing, but also about life. He gives more than what he is paid - his time and his life to be with us," said Koh, who used to run a yacht rental company. "When he took us on as sailors, our standard was way below that of the Olympics.

"But he took on the mission believing that we would make it there, and had so much more belief in me than I had in myself.

"Even if he had some rough patches with the federation, he has no animosity towards the sailors. He sees someone for his or her passion. The athletes respect him as a mentor, a coach, a person who's been instrumental in shaping our lives."

Case in point: Among the bags checked in at the airport on Sunday night when the sailors were leaving for Brazil was a handful of birthday cards for Beyer, handmade by various sailors - many of whom are no longer competing.

Said Beyer, who is targeting a top-10 finish for Cheng in Rio: "I'm fairly ambitious with what I want to achieve from a coaching perspective. I see my coaching role as getting athletes up to a certain standard. If the athletes are willing to contribute, I'll match their efforts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Beyer a steady sail for S'pore sailors'. Print Edition | Subscribe