Scuttlebutt: Olympic Scoring Perspective
by Mark Reynolds
Scuttlebutt asked Mark Reynolds to share his thoughts on the newly confirmed plan for how the 2008 Olympics will be scored. After having been to four Olympics, bringing home two gold medals and one silver for the USA in the Star Class, here is what Mark had to say (images courtesy of www.star2004.com).
(Nov. 16, 2005) I realize that ISAF is desperate to make sailing more appealing to the public (TV) or risk having the sport dropped from the Olympics (and lose the majority of our income). Iíve heard this before; this is why they tried match racing in front of the Opera House. This is why they shortened the races and went to the trapezoid with a little reach to the finish (and in the process lost the real reaches). There have been a few small positive changes like large country codes and flags, and onboard GPS position transmitters and cameras have been slowing coming along. However, what they have just done for the final ďmedal raceĒ makes no sense to me, certainly as an athlete and, from what little I know, about making sailing interesting to the public either.
Sailing is a sport that has constantly changing conditions. This is not the 100-meter dash or speed skating. Our sport is really unique because of the huge affect that the weather has on the results. We have evolved to having more races over multiple days to determine the champion. Trying to weight one race on one day goes against all that. In our sport there are very often days we canít even race! Plenty of other sports determine their winner not by who wins the last race, hole, event, routine or leg but by who has the best cumulative score. Iím pretty sure that this is not our problem so why screw it up for the athletes?
Iíve won the Olympics twice under very different circumstances. In 1992 I won by a large margin where I didnít have to sail the last race, and then in 2000 I had to come from behind to win. I even lost the gold in the 1988 Olympics when there was an ďOlympicĒ scoring system that rewarded inconsistency. That scoring system also made it harder for everyone to figure out what was going on like this last race weighting will do. If we had this new system in 1992 and we had finished last in the final ďmedal race,Ē Hal and I still would have won the Gold. Now how would Gary Jobson explain that one to those thousands watching it on TV?
Often the last race is close for the winner; it certainly was for me in 2000. All that this new system does is give someone a better chance to get lucky. It will do very little to make the sport more appealing to watch. The only time we really got good coverage here in the US was in 1988 because it was so windy and the video was all condensed into a short summary each day. This is the way to show sailing. It has to be edited highlights. Watching the whole race is just as boring to sailors as it is to the public. Even if you were to make the actual race length only 30min long (which is a joke for the competitors in most boats) it still would be boring.
Sailing generally is not a sport that lends itself to spectators watching from the water or ashore, so donít focus on that at least for all 11 classes. Put cameras on the boats, in the water, above the water, on the marks and edit it into a 4 min segment for each class and you will have a great one-hour show. Perhaps take one or two classes that are inherently more exciting to watch like the skiffs and get more radical with their format and see if anyone pays attention. Also donít forget all the things that can be done on the Internet, as thatís where most are now following the races anyway. Please donít put all the boats in a pool with bleachers all around for the final ďmedal raceĒ and expect the winner of the race to step out to accept his gold medal. All I can say is if thatís whatís coming, Iím glad I already have my medals!
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