Ian Walker: The changing slate of Olympic events
Published on January 10th, 2019
The proposed Sailing program for the Paris 2024 Olympics reflects significant change for the sport. But with change comes heartache, as with a limit of ten medal competitions, new events must replace old. Whereas the inclusion of Kiteboarding was seen as an eventuality, the Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore has stirred the seas.
The decision to include the keelboat event followed an effort to seek gender balance among the athletes while retaining the Finn Class, which is seen as the last event that connects the past with the present. The creation of the Mixed One Person Dinghy event in May 2018 was the solution, which envisioned a team of two people sailing a single-handed dinghy.
However, what failed to gain traction was a vision of how to execute the event. As a result, when World Sailing met in November at their 2018 Annual Conference, the mixed dinghy event was replaced with the mixed keelboat event.
In an interview with Justin Chisholm on yachtracing.life, Ian Walker, a 2-time Olympic medalist and now the Director of Racing at Britain’s Royal Yachting Association, shares his views on the potential introduction of a mixed gender offshore class for Paris 2024:
Well you can’t really look at it in isolation, you’ve got to look at the whole process of how they got to that point.
If I just step back and look at the array of events we potentially have for 2024, you’ve got to say it’s kind of exciting. We’ve got some single-handers, we’ve got double-handers, we got skiffs, we’ve got some mixed boats, we’ve got offshore, we’ve got kiteboards, we’ve got windsurfing.
If the purpose of the Olympics is to showcase the breadth of our sport to the world, that’s pretty cool. So in that sense I’m quite positive. If I think about British interests, of course we absolutely want to retain the Finn, because I think we’ve won the last five gold medals in the Finn. And we’re working incredibly hard hoping that we might go to win the next one.
I do think that in an age where humans are getting bigger generally – certainly in the developed world and I suspect across the whole world – because of improved diets, it’s slightly strange that we no longer have a boat for larger men, at least.
It’s a victim of the process. World Sailing followed the process, I think the final decision to approve offshore sailing over the single person mixed event was the right decision. Because I don’t believe the Finn would have had a role to play in that anyway. And I think to have events such as single-person mixed in the Olympics that don’t exist outside of the Olympics, would be wrong.
I can see quite a lot of potential in mixed-offshore. But I could also see a lot of questions. How is it going to be kept affordable? How are they going to police the rules? And actually, on a really simple point, I’m nervous about the number of double-handed boats we now have, or double-handed events.
With a falling athlete quota (number of athletes allowed by IOC for Sailing), it means the fleet sizes are going to get smaller and smaller at the Games, and that’s going to have an impact on the number of countries that end up being involved.
I guess my real fear there is that’s one of the main reasons why Parasailing was dropped from the Olympics, because it wasn’t seen that there was participation in enough countries and continents worldwide. So, that’s a bit of a concern.