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Fisher's View- Olympic Thoughts

by Bob Fisher on 5 May 2008
Bob Fisher
The Olympic Games brings out the best, and the worst, in a variety of people. In certain areas, it is all about winning, and ONLY winning.

I hardly think that was what Baron Pierre de Coubertin had in mind when he formulated the Games back in 1896. While winning is indeed one of the purposes of all Olympic athletes, the qualification or team selection is equally important. There are many for whom membership of the Olympic family is an achievement in itself.

Like all sporting events, it should be stimulating and provide enjoyment for those who take part. For sailors, this is particularly true – competition is an extension of the recreation. And, lets face it, the boats themselves are best if they are exciting.

Certainly this is true of the Tornado catamaran, the 49er and the windsurfers; most of the other classes are pedestrian and should be examined with a view to change.

The chance was not properly addressed in Cascais last November, too much emphasis was placed on providing a continuum that would reduce the costs for the smaller nations. That thinking is spurious and all the Council members are aware of that.

Mention of the Tornado brings back memories of 41 years ago when, given a summer off from my job at the BBC, I was concentrating on preparation for the Little America’s Cup with Lady Helmsman. While time consuming, it did allow me to work with the Tornado’s designer, Rodney March, and builder, Reg White, on the rig for the prototype.


It presented a new set of challenges, but they were overcome with sufficient lead time for us to take the boat to Sheppey, on the north Kent coast, for the IYRU trials to select suitable boats for international classes for two-handed and single-handed boats.

Reg and I sailed the standard Tornado while Terry Pearce and the designer sailed a similar boat but with a wing-mast una-rig. They had a slight speed edge on us until the mast fell down, but it was close. The wing mast would, undoubtedly, have clouded the selection issue, but the two Tornados were well ahead of the rest and the Tornado’s selection was almost automatic and the class has gone from strength to strength, at least until last November.

It is interesting to muse that the B-class (20ft overall and 235 square feet of rig area) has subsequently died, but the A-class has become the leading edge in single-handed catamaran sailing. Whatever happened to the Australis, the boat that won those trials at Sheppey in 1967?

John Fisk, as Chairman of the IYRU Multihull Committee, was one of the selectors at those trials, and subsequently worked tirelessly to ensure that there was a suitable class in the Olympics. He was rewarded when the Tornado was chosen for the Montreal Games in 1976, which he attended despite suffering from the cancer that was to take his life shortly afterwards. John would, however, have been very amused at the America’s Cup taking place in mega-multihulls.

As I said at the Opening Ceremony for the Tornado World Championship at Takapuna, John will be turning in his grave at the decision made in Cascais to drop the multihull from the list of disciplines. To him, and to many others, the incomprehensibility of that decision beggars belief. One only hopes that ISAF, at the mid-term meetings, can distinguish the level of urgency of a re-think of the decision and act quickly to restore some balance to the nominated disciplines. There is an overwhelming case for the restoration of a multihull and care must be taken to avoid the lobbying that led to its demise. I have no need to point fingers – you all know who you are.

To disenfranchise the multihull sailors was a travesty of thought last November. It is a huge constituency that deserves to be treated properly. One could understand the move coming from a tyrannical body seeking total authoritarian control, but from a democratically constituted body formed to administer a sport, it was outrageous and must be rectified.



Click below to see a seven minute extract from the 2008 Tornado Worlds from the Takapuna 2008 DVD by Silverfox Productions

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