Turning the Sport Into Something it’s Not

Published on February 20th, 2013

When the ISAF Sailing World Cup came to Miami (Jan 28-Feb 2), it was the beginning of a journey for many of the athletes toward the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The event was also a test bed for ISAF as they sought to experiment with event formats they hoped would heighten fan appeal for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Among the classes participating in the experiment was the Men’s and Women’s RS:X windsurfing events, which had devised a multi-stage format that had various steps to advance sailors to the Finals. But as 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nick Dempsey (GBR) explains, he was not a fan of the plan…
We found out when the Sailing Instructions were issued a couple of days’ before racing how it was going to work. You have to be open-minded to these things and when you know that the racing formats are being experimented with you can only form a valid opinion, and give what you hope will be valuable, credible feedback, if you’ve actually tried it yourself.

But it was obvious right from the outset that this particular format would be leaving too much to chance. You could qualify last from each of the fleet series, quarter-finals and semi-finals and still walk away with the gold medal if you won the final six-board race.

How can you spend four years of your life training for what could come down to one 15 minute blast in Rio where the winner takes all, regardless of how they have sailed in the rest of the event?

A sailing regatta is supposed to reward consistency over the course of a series. Ours is an environmental sport where conditions can fluctuate from day to day. But you always know that over the course of a series invariably things will level themselves out, and the people who have been consistent across the full range of conditions – ie, the best sailors that week – will win the medals. It’s the way it should be, not a winner-takes-all final race showdown.

My preference would be to go back to what we had at the 2004 Athens Olympics, with no medal race at all. It was simple then; the person with the least points wins. It’s like golf, everyone understood it. Now it feels like they’re just trying to make the sport something that it’s not, and in doing so, the sport gets further away from athletic achievement and consistent performance.

The overriding feeling in the boat park was this format just isn’t fair competition. – Full report: http://www.volvocarssailing.co.uk/news/view/nick_dempsey_blog/

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