How the Olympics will impact Kiting
Published on May 22nd, 2017
When five-time Olympian Mike Gebhardt asserts that kiting securing a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Games would change everything in the sport, with an explosion of interest and money, it is not to be taken lightly. The renowned racing coach knows what he is talking about.
Kiteboarding is to be considered as a “showcase” event—short of full medal status—by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the coming months after World Sailing’s (WS) Council put the sport forward for inclusion.
If the IOC agrees the WS proposal—kiting operates under the auspices of WS through the IKA—it is likely that some form of “short-track” kitefoil racing for men and women would grace the XXXII summer Olympiad.
Gebhardt, who was instrumental in ensuring kiteboarding momentarily won an Olympic medal slot back in 2012, witnessed first-hand the effect even that dashed gambit had with a dramatic upsurge in interest and participation.
At the course-board Formula Kite World Championships in Cagliari, Italy, in 2012, the numbers of entrants “maxed out” at a staggering 240 competitors, many of them kiting novices who switched from windsurfing in pursuit of the Olympic dream.
“Sport is driven by money,” he said. “When it becomes Olympic, kiting will become huge. The brands and the manufacturers will invest heavily. As soon as it’s Olympic, it’s no longer a fringe sport.
“The Olympics are like a peaceful war. The ideal is benevolent, but it ends up with resources being thrown at it. That’s a really positive impact. Kiting’s healthy, inexpensive and accessible. That will be great in allowing all smaller, less rich nations to buy into it. And now we also have the crazy high-performance of foils.”
Gebhardt has seen the Olympic effect up close and personal. He represented the US in windsurfing in each Games from 1984 to 2000 and as a coach since, now specializing in kiting.
“Windsurfing at Olympic level was quite some juggernaut; that’s what kiting will get,” said Gebhardt, 51, now living in the kiting mecca of Cabarete, Dominican Republic. “There is a huge amount of money and the industry will get really involved.”
Kiting will get its first place on the Olympic stage when it will be an event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina. As a result, Gebhardt has already noticed more riders showing up at events with coaches, a bellwether that changes are afoot in kiting’s new potential Olympic era.
“That’s a change for the better,” he said. “It’s a clear sign that the infrastructure is changing ahead of the Olympics and that more money is available.”