A Rally for Reinstatement

Published on July 23rd, 2018

American Dee Smith, a former America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race competitor, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Para Sailing. Competing in the singlehanded event, Smith finished 4th at the 2016 Paralympic Games and 5th at the 2016 Para Sailing World Championship.

However, since the announcement by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that Sailing was removed from the slate of events for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Smith has joined Para Sailors from around the world in a rally for reinstatement. Smith offers this update on the mission:

With the help of World Sailing and their National Authorities, the task at hand is to convince the IPC that Sailing is a great sport to be included in the Para Games.

The IPC told the sailing community that without demonstrating at least 32 countries were widely and regularly practicing and competing in Para Sailing, Sailing would most likely remain out of the Paralympic Games. However, with the sport being removed from the 2020 Para Games, most countries and their Para Sailors have lost their funding to compete both nationally and internationally.

The most countries represented in the past at a Para World Championship was 28, but with renewed vigor we managed to get 39 at the 2017 Para Worlds in Kiel, Germany. This year, the 2018 Para World Sailing Championship are coming to the USA and will be held in September 18-22 at Sheboygan, WI.

While the host is certain to put on an excellent event, this Midwest location is of significant distance for many countries with limited or no funding, which makes the task of reaching the minimum number (32) of participating countries quite daunting.

Thankfully, the IPC has allowed the final country count for the 2018 world-wide participation to include both the countries that have competed in the 2018 European Championship that was just held in Kiel along with the countries competing in the 2018 Para Worlds in Sheboygan.

The application to the IPC by World Sailing to include Para Sailing in the slate of events for the 2024 Para Games in Paris was submitted on July 6th. This fall, the IPC will vet all applications from the Para sports that were invited to reapply and in January 2019 will announce the sports that will be included the 2024 Games in Paris, France.

Now we need to finish the job! A big turnout at the 2018 Para World’s in Sheboygan is key.

When registration opened, entries were slow to come in now there are 34 countries registered with more to come. If we add in the countries that competed in Kiel, we can add another 2 countries to the list that are not currently entered in Sheboygan event. We look very good at this point to not only reach but to exceed the minimum country count required, but everyone has to arrive in Sheboygan.

However, participation count is only one part of what the IPC is looking for. So what is the next step?

The USA needs to restart their Para Team and the development of a Para Sailing pipeline once the highly anticipated announcement of re-inclusion of Para Sailing by IPC is made. There is no team now. The USA Para Sailing Team has the highest medal count of any country world-wide, winning at least one medal in every Para Games since Para Sailing was included in Atlanta in 1996. We will be working on getting new people and returning of old salts…

USA Para team in 2016 had very little cash and limited support. All the sailors had to put their own program together mostly through self-funding. We have to compete against other countries that paid their sailors to train and compete.

So, the name of the game in the USA is that private money funds Olympic and Para athletes. As a sailing community, we need to fund our team well enough so our sailors can only think about getting faster, not just feeding themselves.

In a bold move, World Sailing has changed from equipment that was used at the 2016 Para Games in Rio for two new types of boats that will be sailing at the Worlds in Sheboygan. Out are the Sonar and SKUD and in are the Hansa 303 and the RS Venture.

This move was for two reasons. The Sonar and SKUD are more expensive and too big to transport around easily. The Hansa and RS are less expensive for the sailors and will be provided boats/shared charter for the Worlds. This makes it much easier and affordable for emerging nations to attend the Worlds.

New formats will also be used at the Worlds for the Hansa 303 and RS Venture. Shorter course racing with qualifying series and finals for the Hansa in separate men’s and women’s divisions. The RS will be heat style racing with super short courses, knock-out rounds and a winner takes all final.

This format was tested for the RS at the recent Clagett Regatta/US Para Sailing Championship and was hugely successful – and it included sailors with a very wide range of disabilities! In fact, the US National Para Champions in the doublehanded RS class was Christina Rubke (who steered with her chin using a joystick steering mechanism) and Kris Scheppe who has a vision impairment.

In my 2.4 Norlin One Design Class, the competition will be very high. It is a closed one design but there is room to work the boat for people with different disabilities. Eight of the top 10 in the 2016 Para Games will be in Sheboygan… it will not be an easy regatta.

The top of the class is as good as I have seen in any class, able-bodied or disabled. Since the Games in Rio, I have not had the chance to sail against the best but have been making improvements to my boat and sails. It will be very interesting to see if my work has paid off.

Details for Para World Sailing Championships: https://www.yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=4621

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