China has a very long sailing history. The Chinese explorer and trader Zheng Ho sailed to India and on to Africa between 1405 and 1433, but sailing as a sport has not on China’s radar for the first hundred years of the modern Olympic competition.
Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008. Yin Jian (CHN) on the gold medal winner’s podium.
The International Olympic Committee began talking to the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao in 2001 and upon its confirmation in 2004 as the Beijing Olympic sailing venue, Qingdao embarked on a major redevelopment program of its waterfront shipyard area.
Half a billion US dollars later, Qingdao delivered, building a sailing precinct which is unequalled around the world. China's self styled 'Sailing City' grabbed the international sailing spotlight with the organization of the successful 2008 Olympic Sailing regatta.
It was of historic significance and when Chinese RS:X windsurfer Yin Jian won the first ever Olympic sailing medal for China, it fired the collective Chinese imagination. This medal could be the start of a flood of sailing medals in years to come.
As Kjell Borking, the Vice President of EUROSAF, the peak European sailing body commented today at the 2010 International Sailing Forum in Qingdao ‘’The explosion of sailing in Asia is both a joyous and a sad time for this European dominated sport.’
Borking predicts that European influence could wain rapidly as China and the other Asian countries have the potential to achieve as much progress fast tracking sailors into high performance programs over the next 20 years as Europe has done in the Olympic century.
What might change the European domination of sailing?
Just numbers - that is all.
Xia Geng, the Mayor of the city of Qingdao for the last decade, and the city fathers are talking about steering sailing, as a sport, on a scale in a way that only the most populous nation on earth can do.
There are a million children at school in Qingdao and there is conversation that suggests up to ten percent of the children could experience sailing as a school sport. That is 100,000 potential sailors, in just one Chinese city of eight million, in a country of 1,300 million.
The centre of the sailing world could move rapidly east!
However the road ahead could be bumpy, with many hard decisions ahead.