Gender balance in Mixed Olympic events

Published on October 26th, 2022

When the Mixed Multihull event was introduced for the Rio 2016 Olympics, it was anticipated for the Nacra 17 to have a female helm and male crew. There were no rule restrictions, but significant strength was needed in the crew position for mainsail trim and spinnaker handling.

But this was the first mixed event for the Olympics, the Nacra 17 was newly released, and the pool of elite women was thinned as many moved into the 49erFx for the new Women’s Skiff event. The result was men were on the Nacra 17 helm and women battled the crewing loads.

For Paris 2024, the Men’s and Women’s Two Person Dinghy events from Tokyo 2020 had merged the 470 sailors into the new Mixed Two Person Dinghy event. The question returned on how best to position the players, and it was theorized that it may have to do with the class kinetics rule.

At Tokyo 2020, the 470 Class had a rule in which at 8 knots, all limits on illegal propulsion were removed. This makes life easy on the umpires, but has turned the boat into an endurance test of pumping, rocking, and ooching. At times, it hardly looks like sailing, and a lot of effort was required of the crew position.

However, the class rule was increased to 10 knots for Paris 2024, which reduces some of the exertion in the pre-planning conditions. Has it had an impact on gender roles?

The 2022 470 World Championship, currently being held in Israel, is providing the latest test for teams progressing toward Paris 2024. After three days of racing, the wind range has been on both sides of 10 knots, and currently the top 10 shows an even distribution of female/ male and male/ female combinations in the new era of Mixed 470 competition.

Currently in third is Jordi Xammar and Nora Brugman (ESP), with Xammar as bronze medalist helm in Tokyo who teamed with dual citizen Brugman who failed to qualify as crew on the US Team. As to their alignment, Brugman joked that she’s not tall enough. “When Jordi is hiking he is as tall as me on the trapeze. It makes it very easy to have a face-to-face conversation while we’re racing.”

At one point the Spanish found themselves racing side by side with the overall leaders Luise Wanser and Philipp Autenrieth (GER). Struggling to match the German upwind pace, Brugman shouted, “Why aren’t we faster?” To which Xammar replied, “Because Philipp is 10 kilos heavier than you!”

The top two 470 teams, and three of the top five have female helms. In the upper wind range, as the helm hikes, extra crew weight outward on the trapeze is a powerful combination. As for at the 2022 Nacra World Championship, the top female helm was third with six female/ male combinations in the top twenty.

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