Are the Olympic Sailing classes relevant?

Skiffie August 23, 2012 4

It was certainly heartening for us armchair sailors back here in Oz when our three red-hot favourites – Tom Slingsby in the Men’s Laser, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen in the Men’s 49er, and Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page in the Men’s 470 – all sailed consistently well across the event to be in comfortable podium positions going into the double points medal race.

Even better than that, Australia also had a chance with the Women’s 470 team of Belinda Stowell and Elise Rechichi recovered from a disastrous start to their regatta to be in with a sniff of bronze, and the Women’s Elliott 6m crew of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty punched well above their weight to go through the Round Robin stage undefeated, and fought tooth and nail in the gold medal race to go down 3-2 for silver.

It got me thinking though, about the mix of the classes that do compete, particularly the “heavyweight dinghy”, keelboat classes, single-handed and “trapeze” classes and where they sit in terms of contemporary sailing?  There’s been a few shocks from the ISAF in terms of the selected Olympic Sailing classes in recent years (dropping the Tornado for London; dropping the Elliott 6m after just one games before it had even been run; dropping the RS:X sailboard and introducing the IKA kiteboard for Rio de Janiero), so I thought I’d try to rationalise the classes and reflect what I think makes for more exciting and relevant sailing events.

Tom Slingsby pockets Olympic Gold, but is the Laser still relevant? Photo c/- AUSOlympicTeam

Single Handed Dinghy Events

Sailing a dinghy around by yourself requires an extraordinary amount of strength, skill and concentration – there is absolutely nowhere to hide and no one else to blame when things go wrong.   But having the Laser and the Finn classes seems to me as a bit of a redundancy, so one event must go.  This one’s a no-brainer, the Laser and Laser Radial remain in place under this category, bye-bye Finn!  Besides, there’s just far too many Laser sailors out there to have the Laser in any form voted out, so I’ll also refrain from calling any of them “Nigel”.  Wait, what?  If I was to think to fun, fast and exciting, personally I’d be looking to the International Moth to replace the Men’s Laser, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t also replace the Women’s Laser Radial.  Besides, Tom’s already had a crack at the Moth so he’s got a good chance there too!

Team Wangi compete in Olympic Sailing at London 2012

The 49ers competing in London. Photo c/- @nath49er

High Performance Dinghy Events

I recall the much younger me laughing inwardly at the antics of the so-called expert skiff sailors constantly capsizing the 49er as they all came to grips with a totally new type of boat (and no, certainly was not then or even now claim to be an expert skiffie).  But that’s just the appeal of this class, always on the edge, and as shown at London 2012, even the gold medallists can capsize (and who can forget Nath’s swim in the medal race at Beijing 2008?).  It’s also a trapezing class, and I see no need to have both the 49er and 470 given the similar skill sets involved.  Another negative for the 470 is the old fashioned symmetrical spinnaker… the 49er also provides newer and more contemporary skills for apparent wind sailing.  Rio 2016 will see the introduction of the 49erFX for the Women’s event, so I’m glad too see someone already thinking along my lines at ISAF!

Multihull Events

It was a travesty that the Tornado was chopped from the Olympics leading into Beijing, and it certainly set the sailing community alight with discussion.  As can be seen with the America’s Cup, multihulls are gathering a sizable following, and I think it only natural to include a multihull.  I also toyed with the idea of using this category as a single Mixed Crew (i.e. one male and one female) event as will happen in Rio 2016, and as regularly happens in various multihull classes outside of the Olympics, but figure this would leave us with 9 events, so why not go for the even 10?  Class selection here I’m not too fussed about, any of the old-speak 17 or 18 ft classes with trapeze and spinnakers will provide the right thrills and spills.

Keelboat Events

Stay with me here, I think that some form of keelboat needs to remain in the Olympics, but certainly not the Star or Elliott 6m.  Choose something like Thompson 7’s, 750’s and 8’s, Elliott 7’s and 780’s, Stealth 7’s and 8’s, Sports 8’s, Melges 24’s, Magic 25’s or so on… asymmetric spinnakers, 3 or 4 crew.  Fun, fast and exciting.  If you don’t believe me, check out some of the galleries on ABSA.

Olympic Kitesufring

Rio 2016 sees the introduction of Kite Boarding. Photo c/- FloridaKitebaording

Boarding Events

I’m fence-sitting on this one, I can’t make a final choice of the inclusion of either a windsurfer or a kiteboard.  I am however leaning towards kiteboards given the “future-tech” aspect of the use of true kites as a means of propelling a board or even a more traditional hull platform across the briny.  It’s certainly fascinating to watch the kiteboarders do their stuff on a coastal bar like the one at Caloundra, where the outgoing tide can add 3-5 kts of effective wind-strength to the onshore breeze, and the standing waves give great launch platforms.  As I understand it, the Rio events using the IKA kiteboards will offer a fairly traditional type of around the cans racing, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

So that’s my view.  What do you think and what would you change in the Olympic Sailing classes?


  • Gibbo

    It’s an interesting article. Having Sailed a Finn and a Laser – the Finn is a ‘funner’ boat to sail. However we need a heavyweight single hander. I’d actually make way with the laser and put the moth in the Lightweight single hander category. Sailing a moth when over 85Kgs is near impossible. However, the Finn is too expensive to get into. You can get a tricked up Laser out of the mould for 15K. So when they are looking at lowering the barriers to entry – the Laser still gets the nod, Just put a bigger stiffer rig on it for bigger blokes so it becomes the heavy weight class. Moth comes in as the light weight – Nathan Outerridge wins gold in the Moth, Slingsby puts on a few and wins the Laser big-rig.

    The Elliot was let go (even though match racing should be in the Olympics) due to the cost of getting the boats and 3 crew plus hangers on around the world for Worlds/qualifiers etc. The Girls aren’t professional like most of the guys and have to subsidise it too much.

    The Barriers of entry to sailing are cost. We need to have cheap high tech exciting boats on the telly.

    They are 49er for guys
    The 49erXR – for girls
    Nacra 17 – MIxed Multihull (its in)
    Kite Board
    Melges 25 (there is already an international circuit)
    Mens and Womens 5o5 – Bigger rigs than the 470 – more complete package

  • Moses

    I’m looking forward to the kite surfing, hopefully it translates well to TV. Something with few rules could be good… in the mould of the BMX you just get around the course the quickest

  • Jaws(AUS10)

    Just have one class (laser) sailed in divisions. (Featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, Cruiserweight & Heavyweight etc) A woman who fits into one of the divisions should be able to compete equally with a man so no ladies division! Each class has its optimum weight and at high level regattas the winner will be pretty close to that weight. Therefore, one boat sailed in weight divisions is my Olympic answer.

  • Gibbo

    That’s an interesting take on it Barry (long time mate – thanks for joining us here). How do you get the kids watching though? Laser’s don’t have the crash and burn features of a 49er or Moth.

    Moses – the Kite surfing will be First across the line – No judging for tricks etc. It will be equivalent of Boarder cross in the winter olympics. Plenty of carnage!