by Bob Fisher
Thirty-two years of Olympic sailing history came to an unsatisfactory conclusion when the ten Tornado catamarans sailed the medal race at the 25th Olympic Games. Not that the race was unsatisfactory, far from it, but that it was the last ever Olympic multihull race.
Tornadoes in Qingdao
It should be a painful thought to those who committed the Tornado to extinction at the ISAF Annual Meeting in Cascais, and questionably confirmed that decision at the mid-year meeting in Qingdao, that the most visually exciting class has been annexed from the quadrennial sporting festival.
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In one swift and thoughtless decision, ISAF Councillors destroyed the ultimate prize and with it the inspiration for catamaran sailors. It was a universally agreed addition to the Olympic sailing programme in 1976 when there were only seven sailing events in the Games, the result of a long, hard struggle by John Fisk and the members of the IYRU Multihull Committee.
The work of John and Bob Stearn, particularly, should not be discarded like a worn-out shoe. Doubtless they are turning in their graves at the insult to their efforts.
Olympic sailing will lose the most high-profile publicity vehicle – if, of the 29 posters hanging full-length from the skyscrapers of Qingdao, 16 depict the Tornado, the evidence is all too clear. The catamaran excites visually as well as providing maximum enjoyment for the sailors.
The last hurrah was magnificent. A decent breeze of (officially) 12 knots that looked more gave the Tornados every opportunity to display their paces.
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And they did just that with fast racing, the boats reaching 18 knots downwind, places changing and skills rewarded – everything that could possibly be asked of boats and crews.
Exciting racing well covered with on board cameras to give the general public a ringside seat without getting wet. It was heady stuff. Can ISAF honestly justify its decision after that?
Reg White, who won the first gold medal in the class, expressed his disappointment at the Olympic death of the Tornado only three weeks ago. He said: 'It is a major disappointment for all cat sailors, and particularly for those of us who were involved in developing the boats.'
He continued: 'I am sure that all those who are sailing them today will share my views, particularly Mitch Booth who did so much to improve the boats’ performance with the square-top mainsail and gennaker.'
White, who will be 73 in October, still actively races catamarans, but is organising his Retirement Regatta' at the end of September, at which the Tornado will be featured on the waters where the first one was sailed in 1967.
Like many others, White wonders why, if the Star if chosen for the 2012 Games when it will be 101 years old, why the Tornado, less than half its age and more popular is to be discontinued.
The conditions likely to be experienced at Weymouth would suit the Rodney March designed catamaran perfectly and the world at large would see exciting sailing of the type evidenced off Qingdao in the medal race.
Multihull sailors around the world are disgusted and disappointed that this discipline is to disappear when the popularity of catamarans is undiminished elsewhere.
One is Penny Clark, the British Laser Radial competitor at Qingdao, who has sailed a wide variety of catamarans, declared: 'I’m absolutely devastated. I think it is shocking when you look at the way that sailing is going everywhere else with catamarans, with round-the-world sailing, the high performance VX-40s, and now they have been eliminated from the Olympic Games.
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It’s devastating, a real shame.'
The evidence weighs heavily in favour of the Olympic classes for 2012 to be reconsidered and the Tornado deserves to be restored to its proper place.