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Olympic sailing lottery fears dismissed

by Ollie Williams and the BBC on 6 Feb 2008
Jerome Pels Pels, Secretary General of the International Sailing Federation and the International Olympic Committee’’s technical delegate for Qingdao Sail-World.com /AUS © http://www.sail-world.com
The man overseeing this year's Olympic sailing has played down concerns that conditions at the Qingdao venue could turn medal events into a lottery.

GB team manager Stephen Park believes light winds could limit the number of races and make results unpredictable.

But Jerome Pels, Secretary General of the International Sailing Federation, told BBC Sport the Qingdao venue had performed well in test events. Pels said conditions were not ideal but he insisted 'fair' racing was possible.

Qingdao, on the north-east coast of China, is not a natural sailing venue.

The city was chosen for the Olympic events because the main host city, Beijing, is almost 100 miles inland. Light, unpredictable winds off the coast, coupled with a strong tide, make speed and navigation tricky for sailors.

The British team has been tipped to dominate many classes at the Games in August, but fewer races could decrease the likelihood of the best competitors rising to the top.


'China has every opportunity to upset the form book unlike any recent Olympic event,' Park told BBC Sport. 'Because the winds are very light and unpredictable, it's common to get periods of days where there's no wind at all.

'We have at least seven days (in which to race) and we're hoping we get the majority of each series of races in. 'But there's a risk in China that without wind, we could have a very short series of races - and that will make the results very unpredictable.'

Pels, the International Olympic Committee's technical delegate for Qingdao, is overseeing the organisation of the Olympic sailing events. He insisted there was no danger of the schedule - normally the best of 11 races in some classes, or 16 in others - being drastically shortened. 'We have used almost the maximum number of competition days in the Games,' said Pels. 'I don't think we'll get a full series out of every class, but that's not the aim.'We just want fair, good racing under good conditions.'


Finn gold medal favourite Ben Ainslie has described China as a 'sailor's nightmare', and last month Yngling crew member Sarah Webb said the conditions were unique to the country. 'We plan to be there in July to get our heads around the conditions, so that when day one happens we'll feel comfortable,' said Webb. 'You'll only get the conditions that we'll face in China, in China.'

Pels believes Webb and other competitors will not be disadvantaged by the weather in Qingdao. 'Qingdao is probably one of the best sailing venues that has ever been built, maybe not weather-wise but certainly in terms of the facilities,' he said. 'We will have officials from all around the world to set up the racing as quickly as possible once the conditions are right.

'People say the wind conditions are bad but (current Finn world champion) Ben Ainslie won both test events, so the best sailors seem to be coming out on top.'

Meanwhile, the GB team say they have not been affected by the decision of Chinese authorities to confiscate weather monitoring equipment the British had installed at Qingdao. The equipment was seized by the Chinese in 2006 and has yet to be returned. 'They don't understand what we were doing with it,' said Park. 'They've seen it, they've not been certain what we're doing with it, and they've taken it. 'It's made planning for Qingdao a little bit more challenging, but it's not been a huge issue in as much as we'd got most of the data off that unit by the time it was confiscated.'

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