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Yachting, Windsurfing, Mistral One Design And the Olympic Games

by Bruce Kendall

(September 4, 2003) I started yacht racing single - handed boats, had a brief period in 470s and then focussed on Olympic Class Windsurfing in 1982. After some success in many types of windsurfing competition from wave sailing to professional to Olympic, I moved from boards in 2000 to coaching and racing keel and sport boats. I have no financial connection to the industry. I have no long term plans to earn my income from coaching nor will I return to top-level competitive windsurfing. I still believe it is the best form of sail racing and it is as it should be - for young “super sailing athletes.”

Yachting is like motor sport.
Just as motor sport has many forms of competition and skill requirements, so does sailing. Optimists are like Carts, Formula 60 Trimarans are like Formula 1, windsurfing is like bike racing and so the comparisons may continue.

In my opinion, the Olympic Sailing event should continue to try to show the range of craft our sport has to offer and offer our sport to the widest range of people and nations possible..

To ensure the health of Olympic yachting, I think it is important to maintain the one-design concept with decisions regarding changing classes made eight years in advance to allow people and nations to properly and economically prepare their development programs. The current four-year cycle is often in reality less than that for sailors and national funding organizations. Frequent changes of the Olympic Windsurfing Class from 1984 to 1992 have shown that rapid changes weaken the class’s national and international participation numbers. Since the Mistral Olympic Class has remained constant, the class has grown in all areas.

In my opinion, the Olympic Classes need to be able to sail well in an extremely wide range of conditions, with the emphasis being on safety, tactics, affordability, spectator-friendliness and, of course, their being appealing to current and new sailors who may sail them.

The current Olympic Classes more or less achieve these aims. There are some comments to be made…

  • It seems strange there is no keelboat for men with a spinnaker when this is the most common form of yacht racing in the world.
  • The only spectator and media-friendly Olympic Sailing event was match racing and this was dropped after the 2000 Olympics.
  • Although the men’s double-handed and single-handed sailing classes do attract different sized people there are double ups in this form of competition.
  • Some of the classes are so difficult to sail in above 25 knots that the boat hard stand area looks more like a smash up derby. Unseaworthy equipment can be dangerous, expensive and complicated for the sailors and federations.
  • The ergonomics of sailing some of the classes is severely damaging to knees.
  • Foot straps on some of the classes can break feet or ankles if the sailor falls off and stays in the straps.
  • Incorrect training for the Mistral class can also have adverse physical results. Most of the Mistral sailors’ physical problems are a result of incorrect cross training.
  • Incorrect participation in any physical performance sport can have negative effects.

The Mistral One Design Class may not look like most of the boards seen on the beach, but it is arguably the most sea worthy class and the third fastest in the Olympic Games. It should be noted that the large majority of windsurfers do not ever officially compete and only want to reach backwards and forwards at high speed. The current Mistral Olympic Class Equipment has an excellent pedigree from the professional racing circuit. At considerable cost, it has been through many years of careful evolution to improve durability and uniformity in performance. The shear volume of equipment on the water and its performance in a wide range of conditions has proven to most who have tried the alternatives that it is still the best equipment for the Olympic Games Windsurfing Event.

Below are some comparison with the Mistral One Design and the Olympic Sailing Classes:

  • It has been proved it is the most sea worthy of all the Olympic Sailing Classes, as often, the other classes are not raced because the wind is too high. A Mistral One Design was recently chosen for the majority of the legs in the circumnavigation of the North Island of New Zealand. The sailor was from a short board background and had no previous long board experience.
  • The Mistral One Design is always colorful regardless of the leg of the course it is on, as it always looks dynamic due to movement or speed (no other classes can get air- born by choice) and is most often used by the press as a result.
  • Current Olympic Board sailors are by far the fittest sailors with the lowest body fat and often spend more time on the water than other sailors. Commonly Olympic Boardsailors, due to their athletic abilities have been very competitive in a variety of land-based sports.
  • The action of pumping the sail is more film and spectator friendly than static white sails and certainly creates variety in the sport of sailing. The non-existence of Rule 42 creates an equal playing field for all at all events. This reduces regatta costs of on-the-water jury and the added anguish “unfair” decisions create.
  • The Mistral One Design is far more transportable, easy to store and can be launched more easily than any Olympic Sailing Class.
  • A Mistral One-Design Olympic Campaign is the least expensive campaign to run. IMCO events require the least infrastructure to run considering they do not need launching ramps or flat water to launch in.
  • In strict measurement terms, the Mistral One Design Equipment has had the tightest tolerances of any Olympic Sailing Class.
  • The numbers show the class is stronger than ever before, and if it is allowed to run on the status quo, it should continue to grow.

Considering the above facts, it is strange that the Mistral Windsurfing class’s Olympic status is being challenged so strongly. In fact, I read a recent email from Paul Henderson saying he personally wants to replace the women’s windsurfing class with the laser radial. The Laser Radial has very similar dynamics to the Europe class! It would be a sad day when women can’t compete on boards at an Olympic level.

Some of the Olympic classes are so expensive to run that only a very limited few countries and people can afford to compete. How much was spent on the GBR Europe dinghy class 2000 Olympic rep's mast development program? This financial elitist concept does not fit with the other Olympic sports. Ability and commitment should be the main factors in choosing Olympic winners.

Sadly some of the Olympic sailing classes and all the racing formats are not spectator or television friendly. It is nearly impossible to tell the whole story of the race and who won and lost and why. The distances of the legs are so big (and they need to be with the current format of racing) that spectators cannot see what happens at the other side of the course.

The classes need to be interesting to see on TV for the brief moment they are on the screen. The sails need to be colorful, moving fast or being active. Currently nearly all sails are white. They need to be different colors so it is possible to differentiate sailors from large distances. In light wind a sail and or person moving is more interesting than one that is still. Obviously there are sensible limits but variety is good.

Match racing or team sailing on short courses is the only form of sailing competition that is possible to film and watch the whole race. The best form of competition I have competed in and watched was seven minute team racing with two on two, last through the finish line makes that team lose.

The current shortcomings of Olympic sailing are partly due to the inability of ISAF to create a voting structure that ensures that we the sailors have the correct outcomes. Olympic class choice decisions need to be based on solid evidence and logic, not back room lobbying driven by egos.

Certainly poor outcomes for the Olympic class choices and inadequate formats could contribute to eventually squeezing sailing from the Olympics. Fingers crossed for the future! Apart from lobbying to one’s national authority and speaking to the people who go to the ISAF meeting (who may or may not vote as they have been instructed by their national authority), or from writing articles, what else can sailors do?

I can now only pray that positive outcomes for our sport eventuate.

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