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Letter from the Antipodes: Youth sailors need to rethink options after World Sailing drops Finn

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 22 May 09:42 BST 22 May 2021
2021 Finn Gold Cup - Porto, Portugal © Robert Deaves / Finn Class

World Sailing has floated another three options for the International Olympic Committee to consider for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

None of them involve the Finn dinghy which has been part of the Olympics since 1952.

The Finn Gold Cup win, last week in Porto, Portugal by Andy Maloney (NZL) followed the same high achievement by Josh Junior (NZL) in the 2019 event sailed in Melbourne. Both were part of Emirates Team New Zealand's America's Cup winning crew in 2017 and again in 2021.

Maybe explains why a couple of Finn Gold Cup winners, coupled with Olympic Gold and Silver medalists, Blair Tuke, Peter Burling and Olympic Silver medalist Glenn Ashby formed maybe the ultimate brains trust in the back end of Te Rehutai. And when put under the pump by Luna Rossa, Kiwi's were able to lift their performance when it was needed mid-way through the 36th America's Cup.

Without a backflip by the International Olympic Committee, the Finn class will not be part of the 2024 Olympic Regatta following decisions taken by the Council of World Sailing last weekend.

The full report can be read here.

To recap the Council of World Sailing will proffer a Mens and Womens Kiteboard event for Paris 2024. That puts and end to the proposed kiteboard relay event.

If Lausanne doesn't like that, World Sailing's Plan B is to split the Mixed 470 back into Mens and Womens events - as it has been since 1988.

By telling World Sailing that they could split their previously proposed Mixed events, the IOC sent a subtle signal that an increase 10% to 40% of the Sailing regatta being Mixed Events, was over the top. World Sailing seems to have taken the hint.

And on the Mixed Offshore Event, of which the IOC said they'd heard enough? Well, many in the World Sailing Council still think it is Plan A.

Undaunted, World Sailing gave the IOC another plan - this time to conduct the event within a 20nm square box off the French coast.

In Hauraki Gulf terms that's a box bounded by Tiritiri Matangi to the south, Little Barrier to the North and between Tiritiri and Cape Colville to the east/west. And that's an offshore race?

Previously the brains behind this event have said that it has to be 48-60 hours duration to prevent crews sailing without getting any sleep. Whether the IOC shows any enthusiasm for this Mixed Morris Dance remains to be seen.

After being told repeatedly over the past couple of years that the International Olympic Committee was "comfortable" with the slate of ten events designed to be gender equal in terms of Participation and Medals, it came as a shock when the IOC's letter of April 12, 2021 told the top table at World Sailing to think again.

As has been well documented, the collateral damage of the World Sailing's attempt to achieve absolute gender equality was to eliminate the Above Average Weight Mens single hander, the Finn class, and create three new Mixed events - 40% of the ten events would have been Mixed, and 40% Foiling.

If the IOC, remains unimpressed with the Mixed Offshore event, and opts to run with World Sailing's latest preferences then 40% of the events will be on boards, not boats, 50% will be in foiling classes, and there will be no event in which males above 85kg can compete across the windrange.

The ramifications of that slate have been discussed endlessly outside the ambit of World Sailing, and most can see the holes in the changes.

Inside the rarefied atmosphere of World Sailing, it appears to be a matter of toeing the political line, or face the wrath of a cancel culture. There's plenty of misinformation just accepted without challenge by the Council. Latest of these was that the IOC didn't like weight events except for combat sports. What about Lightweight Rowing events for which there are two in the 2024 Olympic Rowing program?

Young male sailors who expect to have a mature weight above 83-85kg, will have to do some deep thinking on their sailing career options, now that their Olympic aspirations have been redacted.

They need a new route to get into professional sailing, at America's Cup, SailGP, Match Racing and The Ocean Race level if that is their objective.

Looking back at successful "average weight" male sailing careers, the first thing to forget is how old you are, and avoid age group competition thinking.

The first objective is to get sailing in open competition as soon as you can, preferably in international classes rather than Olympic classes. Sail classes that your friends, or where people similar to you are also competing. The sooner you can start racing against adults the better.

Even though the Finn is out of the Olympics, it will still have a good future as an international class, with strong masters fleets. Maybe a circuit like the Star Sailors League will come up. The objective is to find a boat that is a challenge to sail, in which you enjoy training, and one which will improve your boat handling skills.

Second, try to sail two classes - you don't need hot boats - an old Finn and a good OK Dinghy is one option. In the last OK Worlds in NZ, the third placed boat was a 35 year old hull sailed by a top Youth sailor.

Another option is to do skiff sailing - in the Cherubs, 49er, 18fters or whatever, but again keep two classes running.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and other clubs, run some excellent youth and high performance programs, which will get you out of age group competition, working under good coaches, and give you a pathway into keelboats, and offshore racing.

There's a few foiling options around particularly with the A-class cats, WAZSP, Moths, and the Windfoiler - which is pulling a good fleet - with some top sailors using it for recreational and club sailing.

There are plenty of opportunities for young sailors, in New Zealand, in the established classes. Many of these are in resurgence, and attracting good fleets with a high standard of competition with current and former America's Cup sailors, Olympic medalists, and former world champions competing. They offer great open competition

Sailing in the open fleets is an excellent opportunity to get away from the beach experts, and get some mentoring from top sailors who have substantial experience and smarts they are more than willing to pass on.

On the flipside of the Olympic coin, it will be interesting to see how the Olympics survive without the above average weight men - remembering that in the America's Cup - 36th edition, the rules set an average crew weight of 99kg or 16kg more than the 2020 Olympic class top end male weight for everything but the Finn.

Fortunately Sailing is not like rugby or the other major codes, where the world body owns the premier world competition and has huge power in the sport.

The only major property of World Sailing are the Youth Worlds and World Sailing Championships (last held in 2018 in Aarhus). The America's Cup, The Ocean Race, Vendee Globe, SailGP, 18fters and a myriad of other events still function perfectly well regardless of the Olympic machinations of World Sailing, or its parlous financial state.

Overall Olympic sailing will be the loser of World Sailing's decisions on the 2024 Olympic slate, and for Youth sailors it is better to look elsewhere, concentrate on building your strength, stamina and physique without having to worry about achieving a weight limit. And doing it in boats that are fast, challenging and fun to sail.

This month two significant figures on the New Zealand sailing scene have passed away.

Graham "Happy" Mander lived in the shadow of his older brother Peter, who along with Jack Cropp, was the winner of New Zealand's first Olympic Gold medal in sailing at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Graham passed away on May 7, in his 90th year.

A look back at his achievements and approach to sailing was a remarkable experience, and a great insight into the way sailing used to be in New Zealand. On the national sailing scene Happy was probably New Zealand's most accomplished sailor winning all six major national provincial trophies - four of them two or three times. He'd won 11 national championships when he was 25 years old.

Many people ask why a country the size of New Zealand punches well above its weight on the international sailing scene. A look at the approach and achievements of Graham Mander provides a clear insight to this sailing culture, which has been handed down through several generations. It is still present in the skiff classes, but has been largely killed off by the adoption of single manufacturer one designs.

The Manders were the First Family of Canterbury sailing, and were estuary sailors. Most of New Zealand's top sailors have come out of regions like Canterbury, Tauranga, Wellington, and Northland, rather than Auckland which has about 60% of the total club membership.

Many America's Cup and Olympic team members have moved to Auckland for the training and competition, but their formative sailing years were spent in provincial clubs, where people like Graham Mander had a strong nurturing influence, after their Olympic sailing days were over.

Heather Lidgard who passed away last Saturday was one of New Zealand's foremost navigators, and shorthanded offshore sailor. In conjunction with her husband John - a noted designer, builder and sailor - they competed in most races in the SW Pacific - usually with an outstanding performance.

Perhaps the most memorable of those was the Southern Cross win 1971, when three New Zealand yachts Waianiwa, Pathfinder and Runaway, took the top three places in the offshore classic, giving the New Zealand team an outstanding win against a crack British team and others from the states of Australia. On individual points Waianiwa was first overall, in the Southern Cross Cup, Runaway second, Prospect of Whitby (GBR) third and Pathfinder fourth. The latter was DSQ'd from one race early in the series for using her motor to get off a reef.

After navigating through the final night in stormy conditions, the wind died for the always tricky passage across Storm Bay. Heather, as the best light air helm on Runaway took the tiller for the final stage, extending their lead over Waianiwa, with Pathfinder ahead. The record of three boats from the same country (outside Australia) taking the top three places in the Sydney Hobart has stood for almost 50 years and will never be equalled.

While navigation is now done primarily on a computer hooked up to an internet connection, Heather Lidgard was from the era of sextants, dividers, sun and star sights, chronometers and the ability to take sights from the deck of a racing yacht, combined with the ability to work accurately with the navigation calculations in a cramped below decks situation. Add in obtaining weather information without a computer or fax, and being able to use dead-reckoning when the weather prevented accurate sights, you need quite a skill set. Of course, having a top racing navigator on board was probably the most crucial role in any racing yacht, and Heather Lidgard was part of that very elite and highly respected group.

Between them John and Heather Lidgard sailed over 100,000nm together around the Pacific Rim, mostly two-handed, including the Melbourne Osaka race. Ivor Wilkins provides an excellent insight on the RNZYS website. John Lidgard has a more detailed account in his book "It's in the Blood".

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