James Boyd Photography / www.thedailysail.com

2012 test bed

LOGOC Sailing Manager Rob Andrews on how preparations are progressing for the sailing at the London Olympics

Thursday August 12th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

While the sailors are out on the water busy attempting to win Skandia Sail for Gold, this week the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy is full of people looking at how the venue will work come the time the ‘sailing event’ (as it is known in Olympic parlance) is held in 2012. Within the sailing community the Olympic head honchos from each nation are in town sorting out their team’s arrangements, but there are also a considerable number of more anonymous types checking out the venue, even a lady from OFCOM, the UK communications authorities investigating when the radio waves around the venue are not being contravened.

The man overseeing all this is the familiar figure of Rob Andrews, Sailing Manager for the 2012 London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

This week the organisers have had a considerable amount to deal with. Skandia Sail for Gold is the final event of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, but as it is held in the venue for the 2012 Games it is understandably the most well attended Olympic classes regatta on the circuit.
“To put it into perspective we are dealing with close to 1000 athletes here and at the Olympics we have 380 and at the Paralympics we have 80 - so it is a massive event and that inherently places a huge stress on the infrastructure,” states Andrews. “At the Olympics everyone has gone through an extensive qualification phase so you are dealing with the best sailors in the world whereas here we have a broader spectrum of abilities and when it is blowing 25+ knots it puts more pressure on the systems of race management and rescue. They are quite different animals the World Cup and the Olympics.”

On big Tuesday this week, when a front passed through bringing with it an unexpected 25 knots gusting to 30 there was considerable carnage on the race course from capsizes to dismastings to marks dragging. But for Andrews this proved an invaluable test of his on the water safety boat resource. “It is great, because we are learning more which if we hadn’t got involved in this event our first real learning would have been in 2011. So now we can put some of it right by 2011 and then get it perfect for 2012. You have to have mistakes to move on.”

To be honest the WPNSA doesn’t look overwhelmingly full compared to other venues we have been to for Olympic class regattas, but if you look closer, there are indeed trolleys piled up at the side of the slipways and with high water coinciding with launch time this is getting congested. But come the Games all will be resolved and each boat/trolley will have its own bay in the sizable boat park.

On the water there are differences with this regatta and what Andrews must prepare for. Skandia Sail for Gold is an RYA event and the race officials are mostly British. However the ISAF appointed officials that will be on the water for 2012 are also in town. “At Games time each end of the start line and also the finishing boat will have an ISAF international race official on board, so those international race officials are starting to build relationships with national race officials and also with ourselves, so that by Games time we can put on the fairest racing as part of the ISAF remit is to guarantee that there is no bias in any of the calls at all.”

This year LOCOG has bought itself a committee boat. Andrews notes that at the America’s Cup and Audi MedCup regattas they now have power catamaran committee boats, so they have acquired an 11m SouthCat, built on the Isle of Wight. This is being used as a trial horse this week while for 2012 four similar craft will be chartered and the systems used on the existing boat duplicated across to them.

“Then in legacy, the committee boat will go to the RYA so it can be used on world class events that come to the UK,” says Andrews, ‘legacy’ being more Olympic jargon for what is left behind of benefit to all, post-Games. “It is named after the Gold medal winning power boat in the last London Olympics – I didn’t realise there was ever power boating in the Olympics!”

Also this week they, as well as the competitors, are getting more opportunity to see the seven different race areas (four principle ones in Weymouth Bay), two courses within Portland Harbour and then the proposed medal race course in Newton’s Cove. In comparison at the event last year the uncharacteristic northeasterlies followed by light winds, didn’t provide such a wide variety of conditions.

Potentially a major development for 2012 is the medal race area which is close into the shore at Newton’s Cove. As outlined in the ISAF Olympic Commission recommendations, a draw-back of sailing as an Olympic sport is that to date there have never been ticket sales into a vantage point where the public can see the sailing. Andrews has the area above Newton’s Cove in mind for this, but, as he points out “Even that has challenges because there is a Royal Navy degaussing range so it is currently non-anchoring.”

And of course it runs into the old problem that sailing held that close to shore can well compromise the quality of the racing. This week the match racing has been held on the potential medal race course and hasn’t been finding much favour with competitors. As British match race Lucy Macgregor told us yesterday: “It is pretty tricky - really shifty, especially when it is off the land. Out there just now it was starting to come in from the right which was straight of the land and it is like pond sailing. It is pretty different to out in the bay.”

Andrews doesn’t provide any alternatives to Newton’s Cove, however many have wondered why the two enormous breakwaters protecting Portland Harbour from the east aren’t being used for spectators. They would have the advantage that a medal race course could be set up either side of them, in Portland Harbour or Weymouth Bay according to the conditions.

“I think there are too many health and safety issues with the current breakwaters,” says Andrews. “They are fine as breakwaters, but they haven’t been used for people for ages and there aren’t any barriers, etc. They’d also be quite exposed. On Tuesday it would have been pretty cold and wet on there.” But then it would anywhere.

For the public won’t be allowed into the WPNSA during the Games. As Andrews points out: “This is quite a remote venue - there is only one road in - so I don’t think spectators will ever be allowed into this venue, just as they haven’t ever been allowed into any Olympic sailing venue. The big advancement will be if we can get ticketing.”

While he can’t talk about it too much on the record about his specific ideas, Andrews is gunning hard to ensure that paying spectators at Newton’s Cove get the best show possible. “We could be in a position where people are paying for a ticket to watch Olympic sailing, which would be a major first and will also have a big impact on the sport in terms of how we present the sport and how we explain it to the general public. We are seeing that in all manner of sailing events – everyone is asking the same questions: how do we make our sport, which we are all passionate about, more understandable by the general public?”

Decisions about the medal race venue, the ticketing area and the course areas in general are to be decided at the ISAF Conference in November. The choice of courses and the medal race area will also be influenced by “Olympic broadcast services and how they see the coverage of the racing,” says Andrews.

For this is one of many examples where the Olympic regatta is, in terms of its organisation, unlike any other sailing event. At the Games the same organisational template is placed on all events and for example each has a ‘Sport Manager’, who has knowledge of their sport and can act as the link between LOCOG and the relevant international federation, the role Rob Andrews holds for sailing with ISAF. But in the eyes of the sailing world, Andrews will effectively be Regatta Director in 2012.

Adding to the complication many elements making up the sailing event are decided centrally. One example is the television and we understand that the same producer who did such an average job with the coverage in Qingdao is to return – dangerous considering that one reason for sailing’s tenuous position as an Olympic sport is the expense of its television coverage and, allegedly, how little it is viewed in comparison to other sports. This decision was made by the ‘Olympic Broadcasting Service’, in charge with picking such roles for each sport. “They work with the international federation to decide the template but it is less down to the organising committee,” says Andrews. “We work with them once people are appointed obviously and work as hard as we can to deliver the best product.”

Similarly tracking, a vital element for those following the sailing on TV or on line forms part of the ‘results and timing’ partnership contract that spans the whole Olympic Games. This partner will be a commercial giant such as an Omega or Swiss Timing (part of Swatch), who then decide upon the tracking system to be used. At Skandia Sail for Gold the Danish TracTrac system is being used, no small task given that there are 712 boats competing. In fact TracTrac has been following a couple of classes each day and will cover more now the classes have divided into gold/silver/bronze and will follow all of the medal races. For the Games one would expect that there would be tracking for all boats in all classes, although boat numbers will be substantially less. A problem though it that most of the tracking systems use the GSM cellphone network which seems to be easily overloaded and come the Games the potential for this will certainly increase given that one hopes there will be a larger than normal gathering of the public watching the racing. Surely a bespoke comms package is required?

A decision on the tracking is also expected to be made by the end of the year.

With two years to go now until the Olympics Andrews says the pace for him and his team is picking up. Recently Andrews has been joined at LOCOG by Tessa Pelly/Bartlett (who had her first child this week) along with ex-RYA CEO Rod Carr (try keeping him away) who is the ‘Field of Play’ manager and Peter Allam, Jo Richard’s bronze medal winning FD crew from the Los Angeles Games, who is handling the equipment and measurement side. ‘Field of play’ is another example of ‘Olympic speke’ and the role will require Carr to liase with ISAF over race officials and everyone involved running the racing on the water.

More are to come, “We’ll have other people within LOCOG responsible for things like venue and transport and accommodation and the village – all of the different aspects that come together. We are working with ISAF to deliver the sailing to the ISAF technical manual,” says Andrews. “The IOC have a very strong model going forwards and the challenge for sailing is that our sport is still evolving compared to other sports. If you look at when London won the bid, no one had even thought of a medal race. It was post Athens and pre-China and the sport was under pressure to change. So the medal race wasn’t ever in our bid book and we never promised that to the IOC, but we are desperately trying to work with the ISAF and the IOC to allow the sport to be delivered to a higher standard in the UK than our bid book was.”

No small task.



Latest Comments

  • Chr1s 17/08/2010 - 09:56

    What about some official spectator boats? If thay're not too big and have a suitably aware "pilot" to advise the skipper where to go, they could possibly be allowed closer to the racing than other spectator craft. Add in a good commentator and maybe some big screen graphics and you have a few rather expensive ticket sales.
  • kmardel 13/08/2010 - 00:38

    Rob A, I take my hat off to you

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