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Bruce Kendall- Kite racing in the 2016 Olympics?

by Bruce Kendall on 13 May 2012
Starting line for RS:X Men - 2012 Semaine Olympique Francaise day 1 © Jean-Marie Liot /DPPI/FFV
Olympic Gold and Bronze medalist in the Windsurfing Event, Bruce Kendall, presents a very measured view of what lies ahead for both board disciplines, as they contest a 2016 and 2020 Olympic berth:

Some say the RSX was not a good Olympic Windsurfing board and had to go.

Many say both Kite and RSX should be in the Olympics.

Many are also saying Kite should be in the Olympics but not at the expense of Windsurfing.

Most, including the Kiting community are surprised to win the vote for Kite racing to be at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Some of the Kite surfing community have no interest in the new Olympic status and will continue to do freestyle and kite surf the waves.

The kite racing community, kite and board manufactures and NMA’s are scrambling to get organized to get up to speed ASAP.

Face book chat has been lively and often passionate.

There has been a lot of misinformation, ignorance and learning about both Kite racing and windsurfing from those trawling through the Facebook chats.

Many of the windsurfing community feel like a good friend has died or been murdered, some see it as a chance to revitalize one design windsurf racing for the 2020 Olympics.

The Facebook petition to reinstate RSX to Olympic status for the 2016 Olympics was started on Sunday 6th May and has been collecting three people per minute for a week.

What is all the fuss about?

Kite racing is very cutting edge, but represents only a very small fraction of the Kite surfing population.

Kite surfing has a record of being more dangerous than windsurfing and sailing classes, although the Kite racing community claim the dangerous aspect of kite surfing is not a problem in their sport.

The kite racing proposed for the Olympic Games is a similar format to windsurf racing.

Kite racing equipment is likely to be a 'box rule' with sailors registering 3 kites and one board for a regatta.
A box rule is close to an open class, often without budget restrictions.

There will be complications of equipment choices and safety issues due to weather condition changes.

Kite launching and landing and may often need to be made with help from support boats.

Windsurf racing at the Olympic games has always been one design which has been encouraged by ISAF and sailed in a similar format to yacht races.

One design sailing classes like all the other Olympic sailing classes, Bic Techno 295 and the RSX attract the most serious sail racing people as they are more sure that their competitors don’t have too much of an equipment or check book advantage. The skills of the sailor are the dominating factor for the result.

The Bic Techno 295 one-design class has been the feeder class for the RSX and currently has more entries at its world championships than the Optimist World Championships.

The Bic Techno 295 is a very well organized global one-design class and should remain so if the RSX goes. Olympic Windsurf racing on the RSX is not the only end of the road for the Bic Techno sailors. They learn water skills for many sports including wave sailing in surf, freestyle tricks and will be well placed if windsurfing gets back in for 2016 or 2020. It is also a safe way to learn racing skills for kites.

Before the RSX, the Olympic windsurfing class was the Mistral One design. Men, women and youth sailed the same equipment and it was the least expensive, most sea worthy and one of the fastest of all the Olympic sailing classes.

More than 10 years of careful development had improved tolerances and durability without changing the performance or cost of the equipment. There was a good supply around the planet and a good resale market. It had become the Laser of the windsurfing world. But some windsurfers were not happy with IMCO being the Olympic class as they thought Olympic windsurfers should be going faster.

Mike Gebhart was very influential in the change from the Mistral One Design to the RSX and the RSX design concept.
The RSX equipment has drawn criticism due to significantly increased costs compared to the IMCO, it is heavier than most would like and the equipment is not as reliable as some would like.

During ISAF run evaluation process for choosing which equipment for the 2008 Olympics, the RSX was chosen at a racing hull weight of 14 kilos. The RSX racing hull weight in the class rules is over 18 kilos.

This is heavier than the first Olympic windsurfing board the Windglider.

In less than 5 knots, the Windglider with its’ 6.5 meter squared sail and the RSX’s 9.8 square meter sail is faster.
In planing conditions the RSX will be the fastest Olympic sailing class in 2012.

The higher speeds and the more reliance on the performance of the fin meant that small differences in shape, produced a significant difference in performance and so many have had to go through a number of fins and mast and sail combinations to get to a more level playing field.

The RSX class has become the second largest Olympic sailing class to the Laser and has biggest wind range for the 2012 Olympics.

The RSX sailors are the fittest sailing athletes ever, with incredible power to body weigh ratios. True Olympic athletes.

The over-whelming majority of the RSX sailors and coaches support the RSX class to be the 2016 Olympic Equipment.

Now Mike Gebhart is joined by other ex Olympic Windsurfers with the kite racing community and 'bang for your buck' is leading us to the 'cutting edge of sailing.' Kite racing is likely to be the most dynamic sailing sport in the Olympics.
It could also be the most expensive Olympic sailing class.

Kite surf racing leaders are currently strongly recommending that kite racing equipment remains a box rule. There dose not appear to be any cost restricting rules on equipment apart from the number of kites and boards one may register for an event.

The best kite racing fin is triple the price of an RSX fin. Then imagine [money no object] super thin and light fully non-stretch kite lines, super light boards you can throw away after a regatta, different boards for different conditions [according to the forecast for the week], super light kites with money no object fabric, possibly a solid inflatable wing kite.

The guys riding with gear like this will love it - as it would be a huge advantage, but not everyone will be able to buy it.

The majority of the MNA’s voted for the RSX.

Those NMA's that voted for kite because they didn't have a sailor in the top 25, but thought they would have a better chance with kite, may be disappointed, unless they are very well organized and funded.

Apart from Mr. Predieri from Italy, the Executive Members votes and the woman’s vote appear they may be voting only for their own nations self interests, as their countries do not have strong medal chances in the RSX at the 2012 Olympics.

This could be construed to mean that they are not voting for the good of the sport or the majority of sailors and developing nations around the world who's best interests they should be protecting. Especially considering the likely expense of the Kite equipment needed to get near the top sailors and the financial cost of the investment lost in RSX equipment all over the world.

One could conclude the Executive Committee think it is OK if kite racing will be just a few sailors [who can afford the best gear].

If it attracts TV, the financial loss and ruined dreams for the thousands of kids, parents, professional sailors, coaches, NMA’s and Neil Pryde is a sad but necessary cost for the battle to keep sailing in the Olympics.

What about including both RSX and Kite racing at the Olympic Games?

The IOC will not allow extra athletes for the Yachting event and ISAF do not want to reduce the numbers in the other classes to make room for an extra event as this may reduce the number of nations in the sailing event and weaken the sports marketability.

Regardless of the executive committee vote, the lack of promotion made by the RSX class and the powerful promotion the Kite racing team made, the voting was very close between the two sports.

If Spain had not made the alleged mistake and voted RSX instead of Kite as they said in their public apology, the RSX would currently be the Olympic equipment for 2016.

The kite racing sailors for the 2016 Olympics will come from kite racing, windsurfing and other sailing classes. It will be interesting to see which athletes come out on top.

My bet is the ex RSX sailors will dominate kite racing in the 2016 Olympics.

There is no question in my mind that Kite racing will step up a number of levels in performance by the time they get to 2016 and will be a pin up event for sailing.

The performance of the Kite racers in some wind conditions may rival the Americas Cup 45’s. I doubt will match the AC 72 foot versions around a course in most conditions. How ever, with all the amazing speeds, even the Americas Cup has struggled to sell TV rights. Many AC teams have had to drop out after the format shifted from one design to a box rule as the expense of the design and build of larger boats was too high.

One of the main reasons the Americas Cup could not sell TV rights was because they could not guarantee they could start on time due to light or strong winds.


While Kite Racers may boast of high performance in light and strong winds and that they don’t have to pump, the RSX can race efficiently and fairly in 1 to well over 30 knots. [As long as there are not large unpredictable wind direction changes.]

Pumping races are still visually interesting to watch.

Many will argue this is not enjoyable – and for most this is correct, but there are those who enjoy the physical challenge – just as triathletes or rowers do.

Walking races or the tour de France up hill sections are still good TV viewing for the various techniques, tactics and close up shots of the pain and effort and the relief and joy on the faces of the winners. Something many relate to.

On the May 5, 2012 Kiteboarding replaced windsurfing for the 2016 Olympics.

The Windsurfing community dates back to before 1975 and are trying every avenue possible to be reinstated for 2016 Olympic Games.

If they can get a 75% majority vote over kite racing in the ISAF November meeting, the RSX would be reinstated for the 2016 Olympics.

If the RSX class is not reinstated for the 2016 Olympics, the windsurfing community will be trying for 2020 Olympic Games status.

In November we will be certain if we will see Kite racing or RSX at the 2016 Olympics. Either way, it will be a great show.

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