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Double Olympic medalist Bruce Kendall on the Olympic Events

by Bruce Kendall 10 May 2018 06:18 PDT 11 May 2018
Flavia Tartagkini (ITA) on Day 2 of the 29016 Olympic Regatta in Rio © Richard Gladwell

This weekend World Sailing will vote on which events will be in the 2024 Olympics and in many cases, the event selects the equipment.

To recap, the choices are:

Event: Windsurfing Men and Windsurfing Women - Retain or Replace

Equipment - if event retained: - Retain RS:X - Evolve RS:X - Replace RS:X

Following the logic below, it is clear the Windsurfing event should remain, and the traditional Olympic windsurfing equipment concept of One Design with one board and rig concept like the RS:X should remain.

One Design Windsurfing has been and still is, one of the most affordable, gender equal and largest, competitive disciplines of sailing in the world with excellent global reach. It has been in the Olympics since 1984, and in Rio 2016 the RSX Class outperformed all the other sailing classes in the list of requirements that the IOC wants for an Olympic Sport. The Windsurfing Event should most definitely remain relatively unchanged for 2024.

We can see in sports where equipment did make a major difference, the governing body quickly changed the rules to stop or limit development, to reduce costs, ensure it is a competition of athletic performance and not a competition of the of the type of equipment used.

Cycling banned the use of fairing pods and restricted the dimensions of the frame, ensured the cyclists are sitting on the bike the traditional way, introduced minimum weights etc. Swimming band body suits, bobsled, canoe and rowing have very strict rules on their equipment, so it is almost one design, relatively low tech and low cost.

All sports have a fairly narrow range of ideal body size or shape. Gymnastics doesn’t have a size limits and it would be strange to find a 6 foot plus Gymnast that can do the rings and iron cross. The fastest rowers are tall. Many sports have weight categories, which the IOC is trying to reduce.

Sailing equipment needs to suit a wide range of body types, but there will always be limits and so the target weight should be the global average weight and size. Team classes allow a bigger range of body sizes, but there is still a total target weight and often a weight distribution advantage.Sailing equipment can be chosen to target a weight range.

For windsurfing this should be for the average size of people globally.Allowing multiple rigs for windsurfing equipment favours people that are very big because a big sail has a bigger wind range. Currently the one rig of the RS:X equipment is used from 0 to 25 knots and 30 knots in flat water.

Of all Olympic Sports, Sailing Equipment can make be the biggest difference to the result. So, the choice of equipment is very important. The faster the craft goes, it smaller the differences in shape are needed to get bigger speed differences. The equipment needs to be seaworthy in a wide range of conditions to be suitable for the various venues around the world and in some cases. The format and the event can choose the equipment, especially in windsurfing.

49ers and Multi hulls don’t sail well at 90 degrees to the wind in strong wind, they are designed for Windward Leeward courses – as are most Olympic sailing classes. Windsurfers can sail at 90 degrees to the wind, but it is recognised, there are less passing opportunities and there is a bigger speed difference effect from body size as the wind gets stronger or lighter. One design racing experts recognise windward leeward legs need to be used as a main component of the course to make racing interesting to do and watch.

Equipment variations and therefore speed variations are more likely to occur when there are any changes to the equipment or poorly regulated manufacturing. Multiple manufacturer equipment requires measurement and becomes more complicated and expensive.

With strict One Design classes it is easier to control equipment speed innovations and easier to keep down costs for the competitors and have fair racing. Multiple-choice equipment encourages development of faster equipment which is a huge cost and leads to unfair advantages given to the wealthy.

Design within a tightly controlled "box rule"

For some equipment Box Rule can lead to one manufacturer dominating. Mastrom did with the Olympic Tornado. Early in the Olympic Tornado class, there were multiple manufacturers, eventually Mastrom became the most favoured manufacturer and they allowed sailors into the factory to customise their boats. In latter years, sailors no longer bothered to customise the construction of their boats and just ordered them off the shelf. The equipment was considered expensive but it held its price due to the high quality build and it was the Olympic Class.

Boats that allow modifications within a box rule that allow for a wider range of body sizes to compete – such as the Finn Class where sailors can create the mast bend and sail shape they want. The increase in weight range is not massive. This is ok for developed nations and sailors with access to technology needed to build and test this equipment, but it prevents developing nations from wanting to invest due the added complication compared to a standard out of the box, equal performance for all concept. Developing nations do not enter into the Fin class because it is expensive and complicated.

Licensed multi manufacturer classes - 49er, FX and 470

Sailors are still prepared to pay extra for quality and performance, so many choose Mackay boats. This is significant considering most sailing is done in Europe and Mackay boats are built in NZ [which will attract an extra shipping costs and import taxes compared to those built in Europe].

One Design class with multi manufacturers can still have high equipment costs. This is often due to normal commercial margins. The cost price of an optimist mast is around 800 NZD the cost of the tube is about 8 NZD. Equipment licence holder, manufacturer, World Sailing, class association fees, importer, retailer, all take a cut before it gets to the customer. So the antitrust challenge on World Sailing is no guarantee Olympic equipment costs will come down or the equipment will improve. Equipment going direct from the manufacturer to the customer is a good way to reduce prices, but is often difficult to do. The 49ner FX Nacra and 470 are able to do this.

Sails

Neil Pryde Sails Ltd has the exclusive contract to make most Olympic One design sails because their bid price was lower than the others and their quality test high enough, they could guarantee the large volumes of supply and due to economies of scale and location they have very low labour costs.

In the keelboat and one design industry, many sails are designed in developed nations and made in places like Sri Lanka to save on labour and infrastructure costs and capitalise of economies of scale.

The Antitrust challenges against World Sailing are mostly lead by those with commercial ambitions. They want to gain easier access to building equipment. They argue they can reduce prices and improve quality, but there are no guarantees. In reality, an open market may increase Olympic Campaign costs due to sailors being prepared to pay a premium for the race winning equipment.

Smaller manufacturers may have limited supply and choose not to supply all sailors with their race winning designs. The manufacturers may be seen to be exploiting or discriminating against the sailors, influencing the results and going against the IOC requirement for equal opportunity for athletes. Leading up to the 2008 Olympics the Tornado sail makers would not supply some others and me with their race winning sails at the request of those sailors and National Member Authorities that were winning.

The high cost and complication of the Event and Equipment for developing Nations and self funded programs discriminates against them. This occurs now more than has been the case in the past, the IOC and World Sailing Board need to take notice.

It should be noted the Mistral One design was used in the South Pacific Games until 1993. When the RSX the IMCO for the 2008 Olympics, the RSX had a much deeper fin and much bigger rig which was not suitable for this region and they stopped all windsurfing programs. Oceana has decided to reintroduce windsurfing again but they find the RSX too expensive and still not really suitable.

If the choice becomes too complicated or expensive, developing nations will simply not do the sport. This is not good for Yachting. Olympic Yachting needs to be low cost, simple to run events with adaptable formats and equipment for the locations.

Low cost equipment can only occur if there are economies of scale and the general costs are as low as possible. The shorter the production, run the more expensive the board, boat or rig needs to be, to cover costs such as R&D, mould costs etc. Chasing the constant evolution of better equipment is expensive.

To reduce production costs, the over whelming majority of windsurfing boards are made in the Cobra factory in Thailand as is the RSX. Very few manufacturers around the world are able to compete on price against Cobra unless they have made previous investment when the sport was big.

Bic Sport existed in the early 80’s when the sport was massive and were able to invest in machinery that can produce a board every 30 minutes, which also significantly reduces the labour cost. Bic produce the least expensive lightweight boards in the world. The steel mould costs are very expensive and if Bic are not able to guarantee the board will be sold in very big numbers, they will not make a new mould. 2017 globally, Bic sold just over 1000 Bic Techno 295 complete boards and have done so for many years. Neil Pryde sell 200 to 300 complete RSX boards a year, which is partly due higher retail price and a very durable hull which can remain at podium level for well over 4 years.

The RSX is a lot cheaper than other similar constructed boards from Cobra.

Olympic Sailing is one of the most expensive Olympic Sports and reducing costs should be high priority for decision makers.

Olympic campaigns generally use public money, which needs to be justified to the general public. Large increases in Olympic Campaign costs are not desirable, reductions are. High costs are due to the equipment and the many days required for training over seas at the important event venues. Due to its comparative low cost, Olympic windsurfing has attracted many nations new to sailing and there have been many nations and self funded athletes on the Olympic Podium. Olympic Windsurfing has been strict one design equipment so the purchase decision was simple and the investment held it’s value. It has been inexpensive compared to the other Olympic Sailing Classes or types of high-level windsurfing competition.

The Olympic Windsurfing Event is an important asset to World Sailing as it ticks all the IOC boxes Gender equal, youth, colourful, high performance, accessible, global reach and so should remain for 2024 and beyond.

Since 1984, we have seen the cost of the Olympic Windsurfing Equipment and campaigns steadily increase and the reduction in the ability of those new to the sport and underfunded nations have been less able to compete at podium level. This can be solved.

Of all current and proposed Olympic Equipment / events, the RSX is the second to the Laser for gender equality and global reach and the least expensive to campaign. Long-term stability in events will make it more likely that more developing sailing nations are willing to invest on a longer-term basis.

The Bic Techno 293 is the most successful windsurfing class in modern times. It had 400 competitors at the 2017 Junior World Championships, from most of the sailing nations [and some only sail Techno]. This is a clear indicator of what is a large successful sailing class should look like.

This is because: - It is arguably the most affordable one design windsurf racing equipment in the world. - There is no equipment choice, [apart from different rig size according to age.] - Very limited amounts of equipment mean it is easy to transport on a plane or many sailors in one vehicle. - Podium level equipment is available for charter. - It is very simple and safe decision for national authorities, clubs and developing nations on what equipment to invest in for long term development programs. - Parents and possibly self-funded sailors recognise there is a healthy second hand market. - It is a recognised gate way into Olympic, recreational and all kinds of windsurf competition. - The International Bic Techno class association has worked hard on global growth for many years. - It is an attractive class to sail due to its high speeds has the highest speeds of all junior equipment and is easy to sail in a wide range of conditions.

There is a submission to make the BIC Techno the Olympic Class----this would be a big mistake as the equipment is geared towards very small sailors [under 60 kilos] It is excellent for Junior development.

The RSX class has excellent numbers due to many of the same reasons the Bic Techno and previous Olympic Windsurfing classes have been successful. But it also has the following attributes:

- The boards hold their price well and the 8.5 rigs is also used as the Youth class. - The boards can remain podium level performance for more than 4 years. - The one set of RSX equipment is arguably the most sea worthy of all current Olympic Yachting Equipment and offers fair competition from 2 to 25 knots of wind and around 30 knots in flat water. [Foiling cannot do this.] - It is relatively easy to remove debris from the fin and dagger board mid race – [unlike foiling.] - It is very transportable, with only one set of equipment and a spare rig; sailors have the freedom to take their equipment excess baggage on planes. [Multiple rig sizes will dramatically increase travel costs.] - Its very high performance in above 12 knots and has the highest top end speeds of all current Olympic Classes, which make it an attractive class to sail.

The Biggest Campaign costs may be Coaching Costs and not equipment costs. Both are not cheap and you normally get what you pay for.

Hiring a coach is buying experience and knowledge and is making an investment in the sailors and possibly local coaches. Coaching has become a necessity to safely and quickly speed up younger sailors learning and skills. Help them through stressful events and guide planning.

A top coach can often make the difference in a podium finish or not.

No matter how good the coach is, if the sailor dose not have the right stuff, the coach is unlikely to get them on the podium.

Sailing and windsurf coaches require a broader knowledge base than probably any other sport coaching job and it is possibly the toughest sport to coach.

High-level coaches can coach national level coaches to up skill them. Video of the coaches debriefs and on water comments are long-term assets.

Some nations share coaches to reduce costs and improve the quality of the training sessions.

Suitable coach boats are also expensive and the coach needs to be on the water close to the sailors in a suitable boat. A coach boat is a big-ticket item, but unlike racing having the fastest boat is unnecessary and the boats hold their value well.

Coach boats can be owned, hired and shared.

Every cost needs to be carefully considered and like equipment costs, coaching costs can always be reduced or turned into investments. Long-term stability in events will make it more likely that more developing sailing nations are willing to invest on a longer-term basis. Like all costs, there are ways to reduce them and often the biggest budget is not a sure path to the podium.

2018 Mid Year Meeting Submissions for Windsurfing

There are a number of submissions being put forward for windsurfing event and equipment that calls for a departure from the simple and affordable One Design Equipment / one hull and rig concept. Other windsurfing organizations that support multi rig and equipment designs such as the International Fun Board Class Association, have long wanted to be the Olympic event and still do, as seen with the IWA submission.

The IFCA president is on the World Sailing Events Committee, the International Windsurfing Association committee and reading their submissions, seems to have influenced their thinking. I believe he clearly has a conflict of interest and should not vote.

The IFCA website 2017 results, show IFCA events are not gender equal, wealthy nations dominate the results. This is because very few can afford the mountain of expensive, continually evolving and obsoleting equipment and getting it around the world. All the events need to be held in windy places, unlike many Olympic Sailing venues and often there is no result due to a lack of wind. It is clear the international Fun Board Class association events have not seen global growth over many years. www.ifcaclass.com/2017-events

Multi Rig and Design Windsurfing Equipment Submissions from MNA’s and Classes are by people from affluent nations where sailing is well developed. These submissions do not support developing nations and self-funded campaigns and goes against the IOC equipment recommendation that in “Equipment sports, the equipment should not make the difference”.

If the choices are simple, the event will more likely attract young sailors. Robby Naish is still the most famous windsurfer ever and was attracted to windsurfing in the 70’s when nearly the only choice was the Windsurfer One Design. It was inexpensive and most events had podium level charter equipment. At the age of 13 years old he won the World Champs, which put him on the path of athlete super stardom. This has led to his developing many other sports that would not be where they are today without him, such as Kite surfing, SUP and now foiling. Looking back on his long career starting in Windsurfing, Naish said he wasn’t sure what his quiet, 11-year-old self would have made of it. “If the young Robby Naish looked at it now, he might get scared away and do something else,”

If the event is simple and inexpensive it is more likely to attract low funded individual campaigns.

I was never able to afford to do an Olympic Sailing campaign until windsurfing became Olympic. I was not able to afford the top equipment and could only compete on equal terms internationally when there was compulsorily charter equipment. This allowed me to win two Olympic medals and an Olympic Class World Championships. I had no coach boat at all until 1992 Olympics. I never had a full time coach and never had to pay for one – my closest competitor, friend and mentor Grant Beck was able to come to critical world Champs and some events just prior to the Olympics. After my Bronze medal at the 84 Olympics I was sponsored into the full range of windsurfing events.

I was never personally able to afford to buy a full set of racing rigs, but was lucky to be fully sponsored for some years and very successful. We had to have multiple size rigs fully rigged for the whole competition and the excess baggage cost was a killer. The volumes of sales have now gone from the sport and such sponsorships are very rare and impossible for sailors from small countries to get. One design racing with one hull and rig is the most cost effective and fairest form of racing and allows the chance for compulsorily charter equipment.

Event Vote and Equipment Vote

The vote for the event and the equipment are separate, but are very closely linked. The World Sailing Events committee are trying to bring windsurfing close to the beach presumably to attract ticketed sales. Sailing very close to the beach is not always practical the wind is often not there, it could be too shallow, the waves too difficult to contend with or there is increased debris in the water. Introducing an increased amount of equipment designed for “normal Windsurfing” has no guarantee of success. An alarming number of IFCA and PWA events fail to achieve a result due to a “lack of wind.” Traditional Olympic One Design equipment is designed to be able to sail in minimal wind.

Increased costs, current equipment massive devaluation and confusion on what equipment / event to choose for developing nations is very a big factor. It can be seen in the many years of IFCA and Professional Windsurfing Association events, only a very small amount of developed nations are participating and the majority cannot afford to travel with their equipment.

Changing the equipment may not be a guarantee to attract more to participate in the event especially if it is expensive.

Changing the equipment may not change the public enthusiasm to watch an event. Changing the format of the event to allow a better screen presentation can. In the last FX world cup medal race in Hyeres, the camera followed the premature starters – JPN for a good part of the race because they were winning. No other sport allows a premature starter to race.

The RSX was very popular with the broadcasters at the Rio Olympics so why change if there isn’t a problem?

Slalom equipment is not suited for up wind sailing or under 12 knots. After the first rounding buoy, reaching courses can become a predictable procession, repetitive and unexciting to watch.

Foiling has seduced the masses. High speeds, good angles, no sound and a new challenge, but the realities of operating events and funding the extra expense have not been answered.

Foiling is not possible in under 5 knots on a windsurfer and much slower than traditional sailing when not foiling due to the massive extra drag.

Foiling is limited in formats due to water depth, windstrength requirments and unsafe for fleet slalom as changing direction or stopping to avoid collisions is difficult. Many tropical places with coral reefs and lagoons are limited to shallow water launching craft. The foils draw over 1.2 meters and are too deep for easy launching at many launching locations – especially if the tide goes out a long way.

Up wind and high-speed performance on Slalom boards with foils is inferior compared to purpose built boards. Equipment evolution is changing all aspects quickly at this time.

Foiling is impossible in places with debris in the water or opaque water with shallow areas and unavoidable, unpredictable crashing is much more likely.

Crashing dynamics on a foiling windsurfer are much worse than traditional windsurfing due to the higher speeds and downwards rotation onto the surface. It is much more difficult to not crash when the foils touch anything, because there is no water surface for the hull to brace against.

It is almost impossible to remove debris from the foil system without getting your foot down to the very sharp foils. Modern foils are down 1.2 meters deep. The Nacra Class have realised that debris around the foils is almost impossible to remove during a race and in some locations, often decides the race result.

Multiple rig and open design and foils for the event / equipment are more expensive and confusing for developing nations and they will not participate and possibly drop out of sailing completely.

The costs of foil set ups are very expensive. The Starboard Olympic Proposal is for 6000 British pounds. There are traditional and more suitable multi format windsurfing options with one rig and hull for the Olympics available for less than 3000 British pounds.

Rig size determines what size the athletes will be.

For a single Olympic rig size, it should be chosen on the global average weight for men and women. Currently the RSX 9.5 rig size for the men mostly favours tall Europeans and not the often-smaller Asians and North Africans.

The World Sailing Events Committee and IWA submission has increased the potential equipment costs by a multiple of the number of designs allowed to compete.

Multi rigs and designs of registered series production windsurfing equipment will greatly reduce the number of nations competing due to almost unlimited expense and complication.

A manager of an unlimited budget for an Olympic Windsurfing Team, could buy one of every design for the sailors on their team. They would race every design against each other until they knew which design was best for which conditions at which venue with what size sailors out of the team. Then they would wait until the critical time before an event and order all of the equipment of a particular design so they can test to find the fastest equipment out of that design, ensure the supplier was sold out and could not produce enough for their competitors.

Manufacturers cannot be expected to hold stock for the whole world when there is no guarantee they will sell it because another design may take the whole market.

Opening up to multiple rig or fin sizes seven foils with different manufacturers is a night mare for self funded sailors and developing nations due to extra confusion and costs.

If there are three rig sizes, the sailors will need to have all three complete rigs ready to go if the wind changes. They will need to test each rig size to find the fastest sail and have spares. Multiple rig sizes, multiple designs, multiple spares of each size is a mountain of equipment and will be almost impossible to transport as excess luggage on a plane.

The RSX women have only one rig, the 8.5 square meter sail. They need to travel with a minimum of two complete rigs to an event so they have a spare. They may also have a training rig to save their racing rig. They typically go through four to six sails a year. Right now an RSX sailor has three bags to fly with – a gear bag for clothes and parts; a board bag with centreboard; a rig bag with three of the same size rig - one mast and sail for training; one mast and sail for racing and one good mast and sail for spare. They only need one or possibly two booms and mast bases. Even at this level it is tough to keep three bags below the required max of 30 kilos per bag.

Due to funding, expense and time commitments, the number of high level sailors globally is reasonably limited and with an open design market the production runs will be smaller which means more expensive equipment than strict one design equipment would be.

Even when one design dominates, there is still no guarantee the same design equipment will be the same performance and testing for differences within that design will still occur.

If at a late stage it is found that one model is best for the conditions at a particular event, there is no guarantee it will be available on demand in time for comparative testing, training prior to and for the selected events.

Developing nations that cannot send their sailors on the world tour and access the latest information, will not know what equipment to order and invest in – especially if English is not their first language.

With multi rig and design equipment, It is most unlikely podium level charter equipment will be available for the Olympics.

With multi level rig and hull design The range of choice will likely confuse developing nations to the point they no longer continue with this event as they have chosen to do so with the other expensive, highly equipment technical or development classes and they will either chose Laser [if it still exists] or drop out of sailing.

Multiple rig sizes will blow out many self funded sailors and developing nations budgets and ensure they will not be able to compete and massively favour the wealthy, well-established nations. (It will also mean that rather than funding going towards programs, meaning more sailors for the future, it will go towards supporting the equipment needs of a very few.)

Summary: Rarely do World Sailing decision makers have to contend with the results of their decisions – the sailors do. Historically many have acted on selfish or national interest and do not research the statistical trends or consider the global knock on effects. Why have many of the Windsurfing Event and Equipment Submissions advocated more complex and expensive equipment? The proposed new formats are also more complex to run and it will be more difficult to have a financially unbiased and fair result for the Olympic Windsurfing Event.

Because the windsurfing event was much cheaper to campaign in the past, a large percentage increase in costs and increased confusion for developing nations due to the open choice on a number of series production board designs and multiple rig sizes, could be considered bordering on an act of discrimination against developing nations and self funded sailors already struggling. Increasing the volumes of equipment needed and used up is an unethical idea because it is not environmentally friendly and the carbon cost of transport is increased. Increasing the range of equipment choice is not fair play considering the potential exponential increase in extra budget required.

In the interests of following the IOC Olympic movement ideals and World Sailing guidelines, submissions that dramatically increase costs and confusion should be withdrawn or disregarded.

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