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London Olympics 2012 - Windsurfing's last hurrah

by Bob Fisher on 8 Aug 2012
Tuuli Petaja (FIN) who won SIlver Medal today, 07.08.12, in the Medal Race Women’s Windsurfer (RSX) event in The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com

The world's leading international sailing journalist, Bob Fisher, writes for Sail-World from Weymouth - venue for the 102 Olympic Sailing Regatta.


As the medal race of the Women's RS:X windsurfer was played out, the thoughts of many must have been with the competing women for whom this was a last hurrah in the five-ring circus. Those five competitors were probably cursing the idiocy of the ISAF Council that robbed them of the highest level participation for their sport. For those still in the dark, the Council of the International Sailing Federation at its mid-year meeting, voted to replace Windsurfing for Men and Women with Kiteboarding for both genders, by a single vote majority.

The back-tracking has been amusing, or would have been if it had not been such a blatant tissue of untruths. Who on earth would believe that a Councillor of ISAF could be confused about the voting to the extent that he gave his vote to the Kiteboards when he really wanted to vote for the retention of the Windsurfers? These are meant to be the custodians of our sport, but their record would disqualify them from running a charity shop.

As administrators they need to review their own record - getting rid of the Tornado catamaran at a time when the rest of the world was encouraging multihulls was a prime example of the extent the Councillors were out of touch, while introducing match racing for women for a single Olympiad is another. Now, it is to dispose of the only keel-boat class, the Star, where the most talented sailors were to be, and would have been, found. There is a grave danger of turning the Olympics into a junior regatta. Soccer-Moms, you could well find a place for yourselves in this sport (Council elections are in November}.

As the Women's RS:X race drew to its conclusion, it became increasingly obvious that Marina Alabau Neira of Spain would consolidate her leading position, take the gold medal and this situation was going to be embarrassing for the Spanish representative on the ISAF Council, Gerardo Pombo. For it was he who declared that he had been confused by the voting procedure and had voted for the Kiteboards when he had meant to support the Windsurfers. Or was this simply an attempt to save face when he returned home? Had he voted the way he said that he had meant to, there would definitely be windsurfing in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and there would be smiles on the faces of all the windsurfers, men and women.


The paucity of Kiteboard events must (or should) cause concern to ISAF. It would appear that it is believed that the run-up to the 2016 Olympics is going to provide ISAF with all it needs to run two events in the pinnacle festival. That will be the sum of experience available - hardly enough, one suspects, to be satisfied that this discipline is fully understood. This might be enough for the kitesurfing to be considered for 2020, but the lack of experience for the next Games might result in a less-than-perfect event.

When interviewed after winning the gold medal, Marina Alabau said: 'I love windsurfing and I think kitesurfing is a big mistake and that windsurfing is the most exciting sailing sport. I think you could see that this week.' She added: 'Kitesurfing is a fantastic sport but not [for] racing, Freestyle is the newer sport but it is still not developed and they don't even have a one-design. I think windsurfing is best for sailing. There are a lot of countries that don't want the kite. If they put the kite in, it is going to be a big mistake and windsurfing will be back for 2020.'

Her fellow medallists agreed. Zofia Nocti-Klepacka of Poland, who won bronze, said: 'They [ISAF] think there are a million people doing kite racing - that is not true, there are more like 20. I hope that when they meet in November, they will change their minds.' Silver medallist Tuuli Petaja of Finland concurred: 'Windsurfing should stay. Course racing with kites is not a big sport yet.' They all pointed out that there are no provisions for younger people in kiteboarding.


Nick Dempsey, the British silver medallist was adamant that it would be a 'massive shame that we have been dropped. The RS:X sailors have shown this week how fair and close the racing has been.' Gold medallist Dorian van Russelberge agreed: 'We have the infrastructure for young people in Windsurfing, but nothing for kiteboarding. I hope windsurfing stays.'

With the pressure applied to ISAF from the sailors, a re-think should be on the cards, but the hidebound bureaucracy that surrounds the Federation may prevent the wish of the majority. Shame.

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