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Paris 2024: Mixed Single-handed Event muddle

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 17 May 2018 03:44 PDT 17 May 2018
The clock is counting down for the Finn class and Men above 85kg for further Olympic Sailing events © Richard Gladwell

The acceptance of several new event formats that are not a regular part of yacht racing has had more than a few sailors scratching their heads, during and after the just concluded Mid-Year meeting of World Sailing, in London.

None more so than the - Mixed One Person Dinghy which on face value would have a team of two people sailing a single-handed dinghy.

To add a twist to the new Event the submission, one of four from the Romanian Sailing Federation, noted "it is important that the events at the Olympic Games enable a wide range of physiques and weights to compete. Retaining the Finn dinghy would maintain the opportunities for men in the range of around 90kg plus, and give a new opportunity for women weighing around 70kg to compete".

Some minds boggled at the thought of a 65-70kg female helming a Finn upwind in 25kts, and it was explained that the intent of the submission that a new boat would be sought for the female side of the equation.

That left the impression, confirmed to the meeting by a Romanian Sailing Federation representative that the Finn would remain as the Mens boat/equipment and the Women would sail a new boat, which has to be chosen after evaluation trials.

The submission was very clear that the Finn would be retained, however, in the media release issued by World Sailing, the world body claimed that any New Event would have trials. The Romanian Sailing Federation used the 2020 event - the Heavyweight Mens One Person Dinghy to create a new event - the Mixed One-Person dinghy, as they were required to do by the submission template.

There were seven rounds of voting (including two to resolve ties) on Submissions after the recommendation of the Events Committee was thrown out in an initial vote - despite pleas from several delegates. The submission, one of six lodged by the Chair of the Events Committee was widely criticised after it changed all five events selected for the Review, and also wrote off the Olympic aspirations of males weighting more than 85kg.

Nevertheless, it was given a second life and turned out to be the third most successful submission, before being dropped off in the penultimate round of voting as the least popular of the three submissions remaining.

After four rounds of voting and with four submissions left in the running, Kamen Filyov, one of two Group C representatives (of which the Romanian Sailing Federation is part), gave a second explanation in response to an earlier question from Matt Allen (Group L, Oceania).

Filyov confirmed before the vote was conducted that the Finn would remain. "I would like to defend the Submission 22", he began, "which gives the possibility that all the classes we have at the moment we will have in 2020 will survive. Some on the basis of mixed classes. We will also have the kiteboard, which is also mixed.

"There was a question before as to how this would be organised for the Finn. For the men, the Finn will continue to be the class. For the women, there will be a new class. Until [sic] November there will be clear as to formats for all these mixed events, not only for the Finn, but also for the 470 and for the kiteboard."

The top table did not challenge this assertion, and the voting took place on the assumption that the Finn as existing equipment would remain as stated in the submission. However, that situation was later rectified before the final vote with the comment that all classes would be reviewed in November at World sailing's Annual Conference. "All the equipment options are still open," declared Jon Napier, World Sailing's Director of Legal Affairs and Governance.

The incredible race?

Earlier, Matt Allen Australian Sailing President, and former America's Cup Arbitration Panel member asked for an explanation on Submission 22 as a point of clarification. The TP52 skipper queried how the event could credibly be raced?

"[My query] relates to the Mixed one person dinghy," Allen said. "We have had some discussions regarding the media aspects. I would like the author of the submission to explain as to how we are going to deal with two different boats on two different courses.

"Potentially somebody who is coming eighth winning the Gold medal. Also who is going to embark on a four-year campaign, when they are relying on somebody in a different class on a different course, potentially they could invest several years to come first in their fleet and not even win a medal.

"Equally how do we explain this to a TV audience? Add to that the fact that we have double the amount of equipment double the number of athletes - all just to get one medal. And the expense of all that - could the submission author explain that in regards to the mixed one person dinghy?"

"I cannot answer all the details, and I hope the Events Committee will solve these details. This is the only submission in which we save all the classes from 2020 as well as the kiteboard. We have until November to make it clear as to what we will have as formats and kinds of events." Filyov said.

A feature of many submissions was the creation of new events and competition formats to balance the gender accounting. Many of the Councillors still believe that it was a requirement of the International Olympic Committee for 50/50 male/female events and participation, ignoring the comments of the IOC's Sports Director at the Sports Programme announcement last June.

Walker makes three good points

Olympic Silver medalist in the 470 and Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper, Ian Walker, spoke to the Royal Yachting Association's submission which retained the 470 as a women's two-hander, and the Finn as the heavyweight men's single-hander. In their submission, the Brits swapped out the men's two-handed dinghy, the 470, for a Mixed Keelboat Marathon. The RYA's submission survived one tie-break but was eliminated in Round 5 of seven.

Walker told the 41 person Council that the RYA wished to reuse existing equipment as much a possible to save costs and to support junior and youth pathways. He told the Council that they deliberately supported the Women's 470 as many junior crews did not want to go across to the skiff classes. The 420 was the only youth class the RYA had where there were more girls than boys.

His second point was to protect physical diversity, noting that the weight range of members of recent British Olympic Sailing teams had ranged from 47kg to over 100kg.

Their third point was to steer away from four mixed events, which meant six double-handed classes, he claimed that with the entry cap of 350 sailors this loading of numbers into double-handed classes would mean very small entries in other events.

"We do recognise that this submission does not involve matched equipment for men and women", Walker said. "But we also noted that this is not mandatory by the IOC. There are precedents for this in other sports such as gymnastics and athletics. Given the significance of weight and strength in sailing, and the requirement for any slate [of Events] to offer physical diversity, it is unrealistic to expect matched equipment, and we believe it can be justified to the IOC.

Walker added that the vote on 2024 Event slate could be a transitional solution - allowing the testing of events and formats while allowing significant change consistent with the Review.

"We recognise the need for change but are nervous of voting in too many untested events or formats", he said warning of "detrimental effects." He added that the submission allowed event and format testing while protecting current sailors.

Over 90 minutes later the voting was still in progress despite a few attempts to adjourn so that those present would not be late for a welcoming cocktail party next door.

UK's Dick Batt pointed out, once again that the selection of four mixed events would inevitably detract from the numbers available in the "Universality" classes - the two gender-specific single handers and board sailing classes - that in turn would reduce the total number of nations that could participate in the Olympic sailing regatta. That distribution, as well as the low number of participants from emerging nations, was identified as a black mark against the Sport in the ISAF Olympic Commission Report from 2009-2010. Although it was later clarified that participation in qualifying events was all that was required by the IOC at the time.

Sailing Australia's Matt Allen spoke again - this time in favour of the Mixed classes. "I've spent a lot of time with the IOC, as many people will be aware. There are not many sports that can actually have Mixed Events. This is something that is absolutely unique to sailing and is a big advantage for our sport to have a large number of mixed events, and in many ways will be viewed positively in that light", he added.

In the end, the vote came down to selecting one of the two remaining submissions - both submitted by the Romanian Sailing Federation, a nation that hasn't been represented in the last two Olympics, and probably didn't enhance their chances of competing in 2024 with their successful submission.

It would seem that the 470 class and Finn class joined forces and pulled votes from central Europe and Asia to ensure they stayed in the five-ring circus until November at least.

The submission that was finally passed by a margin of three votes (22-19) has four Mixed events in the Mixed Multihull, Mixed One Person Dinghy, Mixed two Person Dinghy and the Mixed Kite. The losing submission was a duplicate of the winner, but replaced the Finn with a Mixed Keelboat.

If Matt Allen is correct, then they will be popping the champagne in Lausanne.

Now for the difficult bit

However quite how long the Mixed Singlehander event with its two boats on two courses will remain is another question. After applying the scoring formula (using accumulated net points) to the Finn and Laser Radial classes at the Rio Olympics - both with the target weight 90kg and 65-70kg respectively - the consequences, intended or otherwise, became apparent.

At the Rio Olympics, only five nations managed to get competitors to place in the top ten overall in both the Laser Radial and Finn fleets (including the Medal Race).

The Gold Medal is won by Great Britain - after Giles Scott's win the Men's event and Alison Young placed 8th in the Laser Radial. The Netherlands won the Silver with a win in the Womens Singlehander and 10th in the Heavyweight One-person Dinghy (to use its official mouthful - somehow Finn is a lot easier). Sweden tied for the Bronze with a sixth place in both fleets. Denmark also scored 180pts with a 16th in the Finn and third in the Laser Radial.

For sure some Rodney Rulebook will dream up a way of breaking the tie, and despite the current Gender Equality bender - could it be Ladies First?

Handing back their individual medals are Slovenia and USA in the Finn and Ireland, and maybe Denmark in the Laser Radial. What a great feeling that would be.

It can be seen from an exercise in the Rio results that if you have a dominant winner in one fleet (Finn), GBR could have finished in 24th place in the Laser Radial fleet and still won the Gold medal.

The fact remains that the Mixed One-Person Dinghy event is a complete nonsense in practice, and is too much of a crapshoot to attract serious Olympic campaigns.

It remains to be seen if the other four new events on rest of the ticket for 2024 are not more of the same. It also remains to seen if World Sailing stick to their process of policy generated regulation driving selection, linked with some inaccurate interpretations of the IOC's Agenda 2020, or if they will let the sport shape itself around formats and events developed by the Olympic class associations and a sailor led process.

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