OLYMPICS: How ISAF has negatively changed Olympic sailing

Published on May 6th, 2013

American Kevin Burnham is an Olympic icon, winning the silver medal in 1992 with Morgan Reeser in the 470 class, and followed that with a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics with Paul Foerster in the 470 class.

The 2004 Games were also the last edition which was pure fleet racing, with no contrived medal race format which awarded double points on the final day.

Now at 56 years, Kevin remains connected to Olympic competition as a sailing coach for various international teams. And as ISAF adjusts the event format to heighten the ‘show’ of Olympic sailing, Kevin questions whether the unintended consequences are worth it…

I have been at all of the ISAF Sailing World Cup medal races for the 470 class since the Miami event in January. The medal race is held after the last day of fleet racing. Most of the racers are packing up and heading home. The days of all the competitors attending the medal ceremony are over, as is celebrating with all your buddies at the bar afterwards.

When the medal round sailors come down to the venue the next day to race, the only people there are the other sailors who are racing and all the coaches. There is an eerie feeling after all the energy and excitement earlier in the event. So each sailors rigs up in the park, without much socializing going on; everyone is in their own world thinking about the medal race. And why not, since nearly everyone still has a chance to win.

So, each sailor rigs up and goes out to the race course, which takes some time before you get there. At each of the World Cup venues, you cannot see the race course from land. A telescope would not let you see the 470 medal race. The race committee is on station, coach boats are kept in designated areas, and that is it. The only spectators are the coaches from the other classes racing that day, and their sailors.

Once the medal races are done, boats are packed and the winners attend the ceremonial medal presentation. There is no one there to applaud. So this format, intended for an event that occurs only every four years, is used for all the Olympic events during the quad. And we all suffer for it.

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