China venue threatens to take wind out of Olympic sails

With five medals and top nation status for the second Olympic Games in succession, the job is well and truly done in Athens and already the Britain’s Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is looking ahead to its prospects at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

In line with its now well-established practice of trying to prepare better than any of its rivals, RYA coaches and managers have been out to the regatta venue at Qingdao several times in the past two years and are developing a plan for how they are going to tackle its considerable challenges.

The main problem with the venue — and this may sound ludicrous — is that it suffers from very high humidity and a chronic lack of wind during the month of August when the Chinese Games will be staged.

The subtropical city, which is 1½ hours flying time south of Beijing or 24 hours by train, is a huge urban area that is enveloped in fog for up to ten days a month in summer.

Information about wind conditions in Qingdao suggests there is an average of just eight knots during a typical August, which is well below what would normally be regarded as sailable, while some estimates put real wind speeds even lower.

Some British sailors are already wondering what sort of Olympic regatta they are going to be training for.

Iain Percy, the British Star class skipper who missed out on a medal here, is planning to have another go in 2008 but he was scathing about the choice of venue in China.

‘I’m already thinking, ‘Why the hell are we sailing in Qingdao, which is a venue with no wind?

This just makes a mockery of our sport — it’s going to be like skiing on grass,’ Percy said.

One man who has had firsthand experience of Qingdao is Brian Staite, the former British national Optimist class coach, who took a team of youngsters to the city for three weeks in August 2001 to the class World Championships.

That event is talked of as one of the most expensive setbacks in recent world sailing with as few as three of the scheduled 11 races completed because of lack of wind.

Staite says the official wind speed averages for Qingdao give a misleading impression because they include figures for typhoons that come through the area in summer, whereas in reality there is little or no wind for weeks.

He says there is no sea breeze activity at Qingdao but there is plenty of current in the water and he believes trying to hold an Olympic regatta there will be a farce.

He managed to question some local Chinese to find out if conditions were particularly bad that year, but was told that they were quite normal.

‘August is a horrendous time to be there,’ he said.

With apparently no prospect of the sailing venue being relocated, the RYA and British sailors are going to have to learn how to race there like everyone else.

Staite believes there is only one way ahead now. ‘We need to get somebody out there and they need to live there for four years to understand what’s going to happen because, unless we do that, we won’t stand a chance,’ he said.

‘We were racing right inshore under the sea wall, which was the best course they had, and that was bad,’ he added.

RYA managers say there is no point in whingeing about Qingdao. British sailors will face the same challenges as everyone else.
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