“It’s the sport I was raised on,” said Mark, who also holds six world championship medals. “If I’d grown up in Charlottesville, I’d probably be a racecar driver, but here in Point Loma, sailboats is what we do.”
The son of world champion sailor James Reynolds, an Ocean Beach native, Mark started sailing in the Point Loma Yacht Club’s junior program at age 8 up until age 17. Shortly after, he left to join the collegiate sailing team at San Diego State and launched into his Olympic sailing career.
Last August, Mark was nominated for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the only sailor in a group of 15 nominees. While he wasn’t one of the final athletes chosen to be inducted into the hall, Mark said it came as no surprise.
“A lot of people don’t even know sailing is an Olympic sport,” said Mark. “We’re not on TV much, if at all, and it’s not a good spectator sport since we’re usually in a totally separate place from the main Olympic events. In the case of the Atlanta Olympics, the sailing was in Savannah and for Seoul, it was in Busan, on the other side of the country.”
“It’s very different from volleyball or soccer or even swimming in that way,” added DeAnn Reynolds, Mark’s wife, and sailing partner, who grew up sailing at Mission Beach Yacht Club and competed in world championships and national sailing regattas with her husband.
“I think sailing is probably one of the most unique sports. Unless you grew up around it as Mark and I did, you may not really know anything about it or that it’s a competitive sport.”
Currently, there 154 athletes and coaches listed in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and 21 sports recognized, according to the Team USA website. While sports such as boxing, diving, skiing, figure skating, and gymnastics have had five to eight athletes inducted into the hall, swimming has roughly 20, which is still small in comparison to track and field’s 50. Sailing, on the other hand, has yet to have any representation.
“It’s tough because I think it’s more of a glory-type of competition, rather than just who did their sport well,” said DeAnn. “But even when Mark was just nominated, I still thought, ‘Finally.’”
From the time Mark joined Denise Conner for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as Conner’s boating mechanic, to when he won his first Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992, sailing was one of the only Olympic sports considered an “amateur” event so none of the athletes were paid to compete. It’s one of the reasons Mark, while simultaneously competing, took up sail making and boat building — a career he still holds today managing Quantum Sails in Point Loma.
“At that time, there wasn’t any such thing as professional sailing so, if you wanted to be a professional, you had to have a way to keep up an income,” said Mark, who served as a sailing coach for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 summer Olympics, training sailing teams from the U.S., Poland, and Germany.
“But all that’s different now. The Olympic sailors today are much more fit than we were when I was competing because they’re not working these 9-5 jobs while they train, they’re at the gym. There’s also more coaches available to the teams and more co-ed competitions.”
Despite sailing gaining authenticity within the Olympic games, Mark says that sailing still consists of a “pretty small group of athletes,” and its recognition remains low. But this hasn’t discouraged Mark, now a member of the Olympic Selection Committee for U.S. Sailing, to hope that next year’s hall of fame inductions might be different. It certainly hasn’t deterred his love for the San Diego hometown sport.
“Sailing’s definitely not a sport where you think, if you win a gold medal, you’re going to be on a Wheaties box or get all this sponsorship,” said Mark, who still occasionally sails with DeAnn on their 31-foot, wooden “PC” boat. “It’s kind of a passion project. We don’t sail to be seen; we sail because it’s just a lot of fun.”