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Opinions voiced on the 2008 Olympic venue and the new ISAF President...among others

Friday January 21st 2005, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United Kingdom
In his December column Ian Walker laid down the facts about Quingdao, the sailing venue for the 2008 Olympic Games, and the very real possiblity of a zero (or at least sub-five knot) wind regatta warning of the potential damage this could do for the sport. Irishman Maurice 'Prof' O'Connell had this to say:

ISAF is displaying a lack of leadership on this issue. Why has ISAF not suggested Hong Kong? There is a ready made yacht club network, a strong one-design ethos and it is a very 'global' city.

I first heard of Hong Kong being mooted in 2002 as the Olympic venue. Surely this is a critical critical decision that will affect the perception of our sport? We need some breeze at our Olympics and we do not need more TV picture of boats that were designed for wind to be drifting around again.

William Hooper had a similar view:

It should be a simple decision. Now that Hong Kong is part of China move the Olympic sailing to Hong Kong.

Mike Arstall argues that countries should make some tough decisions and not go at all:

We have to accept that the Olympics now are more driven by politics and sponsors than anything else so it will take a very concerted effort by the world sailing authorities - ALL of them, to change anything. As part of that, hard data (real) must be presented and if the wind is hopeless then everyone should insist on a change BEFORE they build the facilities otherwise there is not a snowball in hell's chance of getting a change.

Someone from some country will always be happy to sail or drift around and gain a gold medal irrespective of whether it was a true test of sailing ability so we cannot rely on everyone to boycott it if the wind is really hopeless. Someone will get a medal and be happy. The TV will bypass the sport as being not worth covering and the sport will lose out, and the rest of the sailors will be just fed up and demoralised.

The net result will be very bad for sailing, worse for the UK as we usually get a fair share of our medals from sailing, and bad for the Olympic sailors.

The alternative is to decide once we have proper wind data if we go or don't and that option should be put to the teams as soon as possible, so they don't waste four years of their lives. If we decide not to go then we should be up front about it and concentrate on 2012.

My personal view is that I doubt if enough nations will lobby hard enough for a change and there will be countless debates about the wind figures. Meanwhile building will go ahead at a rate as for sure the town of Qingdao will not want to miss its moment in the spotlight even if only a handful of countries participate. So if the wind is really bad then all the teams must make their decisions in that light and accept it or decide to wait till 2012 - one hell of a choice but unfortunately the sort of thing that happens once a sporting event gets hijacked by the worlds political and media establishment. Do I hear a call for a return to the true spirit of the Olympics where the sport came first ?

TDS: Probably not. Unfortunately it is now way too late for the Olympic sailing venue to be moved and I think it is equally unlikely that, for example, the RYA would simply switch off its Olympic sailing program for four years because of this. This time round it is going to be a case of making the best of a bad job. HOWEVER the politicians at ISAF who were coaxed into agreeing to Qingdao need to be severely castigated for not putting their foot down about the 2008 Olympic venue to make sure that a venue with at least half reasonable wind statistics was chosen. It is they who had the power to change this and they failed to do so. It is they who have potentially let our sport down. Would the Winter Olympics be held where there wasn't any snow?

Following hot on the heels of this debate we published a two part interview with the new ISAF President Goran Petersson (Part One , Part Two ). You were quick of the mark with you views of the new man at the top and his vision for his tenure. Pete Vincent picked up on Petersson's response to our concerns over the Qingdao Olympic regatta:

So we now know he is a diplomat who appears ready to put his head in the sand and hide from what damage a very light wind Olympics will do for the sport.

TDS: So you are confident the event will be a success?

GP: We will do our absolute utmost to deliver a very good event for the sailors and the organisers

Well that didn't answer the question and really implies that he does not have confidence the event will be a success.

His section in an answer "If we had more wind than people think we will have - it will be fine. And we have to prepare for what we have got. " really does show we are going into the Olympics on a wing and a prayer. We are hoping that all information about light winds is wrong. The obvious implication reading between the lines is that if we do get the wind that everyone expects then its not going to be good.

Does not suggest that the sport is going to get the leadership we need.

Simon Hiscocks, double Olympic medallist in the 49er, thought that the World Championship circuit could do with an upgrade:

ISAF should push towards more multi-class World Championships. The media can come to these events as they can cover a number of interesting classes - something which is to hard to achieve with a single class event.

They should hold them every other year, which will be the only World Championship for those classes and make the qualification quite tight so they are only for the top sailors, say 60-100 boats. The classes can run open events in the years in between, but they should not be World Championships. This focuses more on these Worlds as they become more important. As they are planning a world series for Olympic classes and visit a wider range of continents so should the world championships too.

The format of racing is interesting. ISAF have made it very public that they want the last race to be a deciding one, but is that necessary or are there other alternatives to achieve the same result?

Any individual race has an element of luck involved, that is the nature of the sport, currently the regatta format takes an element of luck away by having a large number of races with discard. How that might this change by forcing particular races to count?

They say that they want the best sailors to win and rightly so, but what if Michael Shumaker was to crash in the one deciding race of the Formula 1 calendar and not win the title?

If a sailor wraps the competition up after the first race of the day then great, the media can go home, file their reports and be happy. If it takes two or more they will happily wait for the final show down. After all it often happens that the last few races are the most interesting.

It will be good to try new and different ideas, but we must be careful and remember that the sport is dependant on the weather which means simple ideas, which might work in a 100m race, are that much harder to achieve on the water.

TDS: The best example we have seen of a race organiser 'manipulating the tension' in their regattas has been RORC who regularly in the Admiral's Cup and Rolex Commodores' Cup schedule the longest and most highly weighted race last in these events. This may be wrong and make for a slightly unfair regatta - for example the Irish team generally performed best in last year's Commodores' Cup but were fully nailed in the event's last race showdown. However rules is rules, everyone went into the regatta knowing this was the case and weighting the last race does serve to hold the interest not only of the media but of the other teams taking part. The key is certainly down to how much the last race is weighted.

Thedailysail columnist, coach to Shirley Robertson's Yngling team and twice Olympic Silver medallist, Ian Walker, nearly choked on his Christmas Pudding when he read the interview with Goran Petersson:

These were the words of the new ISAF President in your article: "Talent should have priority before technical superiority. The Brits won't like that at all! They have been very successful two games in a row now. But I think that is fair to say we need to have the best sailors. If you look at Robert Scheidt, he is really a talented guy. And that's what we like.So the best sailors, but sailors from many nations."

Mr Petersson seems to be suggesting Britain does not have talented sailors and perhaps only win because of a technical superiority. Having been a member of the last three British Olympic Teams I find this mildly offensive. If Robert Scheidt is so good why did Ben Ainslie run rings round him in Sydney in identical boats? Brits seemed to do pretty well winning medals in the one-design Mistral, 470 and 49er classes in Athens. The Finns are also pretty identical these days and yet Ben still won by a mile - I suspect he would have won sailing anybody else’s boat that week. In fact the only ‘technical class’ Britain did well in in Athens was the Yngling and that has only just been introduced to the Olympics by ISAF.

Here are five suggestions if Mr Petersson is looking for an the beginnings of an ISAF manifesto for the next four years:

1. Increase participation in sailing worldwide, particular at junior and youth level (10% per annum?)
2. Raise the standard of judging, officiating and measurement worldwide so that it is at least on a par with the competitors in every event concerned.
3. Rationalise the sailing calendar so that it is readily understandable to the outside world (sounds like he is keen to do this)
4. Encourage the advancement of technology in all areas to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of the sport - Paul Henderson should be rightly applauded for his contribution to this.
5. Create an evaluation system for venues so that top international events are not held in venues that have poor conditions or inadequate facilities.

While I am ranting here are two other pieces of advice:

Firstly forget no discard or ‘all on the last race’ series as a viable option. Sailing is in no way comparable to a 100 metres race and in Qingdao you will need all the flexibility you can get if the forecast wind conditions are anything to go by. Secondly if you want to encourage female participation in the sport, start by selecting a modern dinghy and keelboat which are attractive and exciting to sail. If they don’t exist get them designed - I am sure there would be lots of designers who would make the time.

Tim Carver also had a similar view over the 'technical' classes:

Some interesting points in this article. A definite shift in attitude from the Henderson years which is no bad thing. I hope he does more than give lip service to bringing the sailors along with him rather than alienating them with dictatorial behaviour.

Interesting that he wants to have more Olympic qualifying regattas outside Europe but the Finn class got hauled over hot coals for having the temerity to schedule the final qualifying regatta for Athens in South America. A venue that was seen as too expensive and that would therefore prevent smaller nations from qualifying.

The only thing that is a bit disappointing though is that he seems to think Team GBR have been better at the Olympics because we are technically better than other nations rather than because we have more talented sailors. Perhaps we should remind him that Ben beat Robert in Sydney in a non-technical boat! The RYA have done a fantastic job of developing and supporting talented sailors over the last 15 years. It is this long term investment that has come to fruition in the last eight. To assume the results are all down to a few, undeniably gifted, coaches is to ignore the contribution made at all levels of Youth sailing by so many people over such a long time.

On to other topics and Nick Ward was pleased to read about what Pete Goss has been up to:

Thanks for the article on Pete Goss, I was wondering the other day where he had disappeared to. Your final comment "While Goss may have come in for some flack after Team Philips, we wish him the best. The world would be a very dull place without the likes of him" I wholeheartedly agree with, and more. If it were not for people like Pete that are prepared to push the boundries of our sport then we would all be sailing clinker-built boats. More people should get off their backsides and make things happen instead of whining about the people who do.

I hope somebody does give Pete the budget for a brand new Open 60 for the Vendee 2008.

TDS: And for his trip to the South Pole...

Jesse Deupree, writing from Portland, Maine, had some thoughts on what could be done to ring fence the 100 footers, following the launching of Charles Brown and Bill Buckley's new maxi in Auckland:

If you want to create an intelligent rule for sailboats, take a tip from motor racing and restrict the engine size. Come up with a realistic sail area measurement and cap it at a maximum, or accept the sloop rig and use an ORMA-type rule, limiting mast height and tip of prod to tip of boom. This will serve the same purpose as engine size measurement in motor racing. Then let the hull dimensions be unrestricted, using construction and material limitations if you are trying to control costs, and appropriate safety restrictions if you are racing offshore. If you want monohulls, a rule against hollows would suffice.

A rule like this would really develop fast boats, and the trade-offs between stability and drag, waterline length and weight, etc. would all be explored free from arbitrary restraints, other than wanting to race monohulls rather than multihulls. It is interesting that these owners want to spend so much money attacking a problem (how to make the fastest sailboat possible) while accepting an unnecessary and arbitrary restriction - that their boats have only one hull.

TDS: Ah, the old multihull argument. Suffice it to say that we have Ellen going round the world on a trimaran, Bruno Peyron just about to set off on yet another Jules Verne Trophy attempt on a catamaran, three 100+ft catamarans and one trimaran embarking on the Oryx Quest, the ORMA circuit flagging slightly but still with a double figure entry expected for the next Route du Rhum, the Oops Cup taking off in Sweden... This situation is a quantum leap better than it was even 10 years ago (largely thanks to Bruno Peyron). Who knows where we will be in 2014? The America's Cup may even have moved into fast boats.

On the subject of the 100ft monohulls - getting them all built to an Open 60/ORMA type rule would be fantastic, but getting argreement between all the owners, all of whom have differing agendas is the problem. They all just want to be the fastest!

Anders Reed-Mohn, writing from Norway had some useful feedback:

Having enjoyed thedailysail for a few months now, I find it at great way of keeping myself informed on what's happening around the world.

However, one thing frustrates me a little. Almost invariably, all 'scorecards' or status reports from races, refer to the boat name. However, in article texts, boat names and skipper's names are used interchangeably. (This generally goes for all sailing mags, not just TDS) So unless the reader knows who's skippering every boat in every regatta, it is quite hard work to decipher a lot of race reviews.

This is probably not a problem for those who have years of history stored in their heads, or who spend time on this every day, but for the rest of us ....

While changing the writing style is maybe too much to ask, how about making a link to the starting line-up more easily accessible from the articles?

TDS: Good point - we'll look into this

Following on from our crystal ball/tea leaf readings about when the Vendee Globe and Ellen will finish their respective round the world ventures, long term reader Rene Serrao from Nova Scotia wrote to us:

Hi there!

I was wondering just when you folks were going to bring up the question - who will finish first? Ellen or a Vendee skipper.

Very early after Ellen got underway I said to myself "betcha Ellen will get home before the first Vendee competitor! And my guess is she saw this possibility during her planning and waiting time for her start. This gal, if one can still call her a gal (cause she deserves a much more noble call), sets goals and uses challenges to keep up her drive and determination and 'doggedness' in stressful times.

You might recall in the final stages of the Vendee Globe 2000 I wrote in saying that Ellen will not let fatigue overcome her until she crosses the line (or words to that effect). So! I say she has already set the goal to beat the Vendee leader and her drive will get her to that goal!

TDS: I think a lot of people in the teams and our side of the media fence are hoping that Ellen demolishes Francis Joyon's record, but a day or so after the Vendee Globe boats come in. Wishful thinking probably, although Ellen's progress over this week and over this weekend is making this look increasingly likely. We're going to run the numbers again on Sunday night to see how it looks then.

In terms of Ellen's performance - wow... As Ed Gorman wrote in The Times recently when he wrote his line-up of the top 10 British singlehanded round the world sailors of all time, Ellen will go to the top of the list ahead of the likes of Robin Knox-Johnston if she beats Joyon's record.

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