Future bright again for Women’s Match Racing

Published on July 27th, 2014

by Maggie Shea, Chairperson, U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship Committee
When eight teams of North America’s best female match racers competed at Oakcliff Sailing Center in the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship on July 11-13, Team Epic Racing with skipper Stephanie Roble may have taken home the first place trophy, but actually, the 50 women who sailed scored a greater victory. They showed that women’s match racing has made an enormous comeback in the United States.

The U.S. once dominated in women’s match racing (winning the World Championship four times: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2011), and we are starting to see evidence that we, as a country, can do it again. The U.S. has the number three ranked skipper in the world, Stephanie Roble of Epic Racing, and winning this year’s U.S. Women’s National Championship (USWMRC) wasn’t easy for her! The racing was close and competitive across the board, which is testament to the talent growing at home.

This championship was one month shy of the two-year anniversary of the 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth, perhaps the pinnacle of women’s match racing. In the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, the U.S. field was deep and the top three U.S. teams (Tunnicliffe, Barkow, and Tulloch) held spots in the top 10 ISAF World Rankings, including the number one spot for some time. Furthermore, the country mobilized to support this thriving class. Match race centers popped up, yacht clubs hosted more match racing events and purchased fleets of boats, and ICSA changed the sloop national championship from fleet racing to match racing.

The decision in 2011 to exclude women’s match racing from the 2016 Olympic classes halted this momentum and left several talented and driven sailors wondering what the next step would be. The Olympic Dream could no longer be the driving force in women’s match racing.

After we all finished mourning the loss of the class’ “Olympic” status, another series materialized that has potential to offer more than the Olympic path could: the Women’s International Match Racing Series (WIM Series).

In its second year, the WIM Series is an international, 5-event series that features prize money and an overall cash bonus fund. The WIM Series uses a semi-professional model very similar to the Alpari World Match Racing Tour and is ultimately better than the Olympics for match racing in the way that it involves sponsors and caters to spectators.

Female participation in match racing has rebounded. Young female sailors made up a quarter to one-third of youth match racing events this summer, including Dave Perry’s North U series and U.S. Sailing’s Rose Cup Championship. Participation at the USWMRC is healthy again, and other elements have been added to make the championship even better.

Now the USWMRC winner receives an invitation to the coed U.S. Match Racing Championship and the WIM Series Buddy Melges Challenge along with a travel grant to help get their team to both events. The USWMRC travel grant, which is funded by anonymous donors and the Chicago Match Race Center, is a new addition to this year’s prizes and will undoubtedly help the female match racers get to the next level- nationally and internationally.

The U.S. has an opportunity to use the existing infrastructure at home to build a match racing powerhouse once again, like we had in the 2008-12 Olympic quad. The talent and interest exists again, and we should embrace the opportunity for the U.S. to dominate again in women’s match racing.

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