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The Olympic Dance
With all the best wishes for the next year 2003! This period in the season always makes me a little thoughtful about the meaning of things. So next article finds its roots in this mood. Itís meant to make a point and stimulate a process which is having its influence on our sport for a long time, therefore its style. I donít mean to insult or intimidate anyone. To the faithful readers of the technical stuff I promise that the next article will be technical again. Please remember what the devil said.Ē Vanity is my favourite sinĒ


As you may have heard Iím now trying to become a 470 coach again, preparing the German challenge for the gold in 2004 in Athens. Of course in a far, far away corner of my skull, there were some old memories from my starting period as a coach in the Dutch 470 class. Those were the days when guys like Hunger, Calafat, Walker and Kouwenhoven were ruling the class.

These memories, together with the occasional discussion of the new Olympic classes brings me to the subject of this article. The everlasting dance about the Olympic classes, and itís consequences that it brings upon our sport. Not that I feel smarter than all the guys in London at ISAF, but just from the fact that one brain cell more (sorry thatís me!!) thinking about a problem will hopefully lead to a better decision. So Iím trying to be involved in the hope of adding a perspective which may lead to a better world. (ďor an even bigger mess!! Dreamer!Ē)

Why is the 100 metres dash by far the most fascinating demonstration of top sport? I think mainly for two reasons. The first is probably the most straightforward. 100 meters of straight line running is something everyone can do in front of his house. Just lay down 2 stones find an opponent and say who is first at the other stone is the winner. Can you get a lower threshold of organization to actually participate in an Olympic discipline? My five year old son constantly wants to race me. To the car, to the house, it doesnít matter if Iím carrying his broken bike, he still wants to race me. And worse, he wants to win.

Second reason is the historical part of the 100 m dash. 9.98 secs. Almost everyone that sees this time will associate it with the 100 meters dash. Why? Why is this such a mystical thing? And, how did it come to this?

Well I think, being such a basic discipline as it is, over a long period of time, mankind (and thereís a lot of them) has been putting in a lot of effort to be the best at this 100 meter stuff. So a big group of people has been thinking and trying etc., and evolved the sprint. But not only just a big group of people. It becomes even bigger when you think of it in a historical perspective. The time on the 100m sprint has been improving since the early days of the Olympics (Greeks remember!!)! Thatís almost the history of mankind ! We all can see those gladiator like arenas where almost naked man are running and throwing etc. Well, from those days 100 meters sprint developed.

Thus the whole mystical thing comes from history. The only way however, that is possible for this to happen is the fact that the 100 meters stayed the 100 meters. And that it didnít change to 100 meters uphill for Paris and 100 meters downhill for Los Angeles and so on.. Apart from about 3 times a change in the surface on which the Official records were to be set, the 100 meters dash remained the same! And this is in my opinion the most crucial fact around this whole issue and mystique of the 100 meters!

Now with this in mind, lets go back to sailing, shall we? What has happened with the Olympic sailing disciplines over itís Olympic history? Iím afraid a complete overview of all the changes in the sailing disciplines during its Olympic history would be a little over the top here, but I hope that you understand that compared with a discipline like the 100 meters dash, we most certainly made a big mess of it. 

And what about the low threshold of organization? Well, my son definitely doesnít ask me to race him sailing (yet!) but letís have a look at that, please. Apart from the two stones on a piece of flat land we do need a little more room, donít we? A piece of water, wind, a couple of marks and of course a boot to sail with. Letís keep things basic, please. But yes, if you look at this again and have in mind what we normally make out of it, I suddenly get the feeling that we tend to make it way too complicated!

Do we feel that extra ordinary events like multi million boats, websites, tanktesting, exotic material development etc. really makes things better if it comes to accessibility of the sport? Is the extravaganza maybe where that magic from the mega million dollar scene from the Americas Cup comes from, and does it really help the sport of sailing becoming more popular? 

Iím the last one to say that events like these (and Volvo OR, and Sydney to Hobart, etc.) will not get the attention of the people who watch TV (I so much want the Americas Cup in Europe!!) and keeps the sponsors happy. But, I seriously doubt if these things are expanding the sport.

I get more and more the feeling that the sport of sailing lacks an international structure which in a way allows a sailor to reach the highest. Or in other words, if you look at our sport, and you want to advise a kid of five years old who asks you what to do becoming a professional sailor. What will you tell him? 

Starting sail racing is a joke. the Optimist class is more and more becoming an Olympic discipline for parents. The class rule book is thicker than an Olympic bidbook and the kids in the top are driven into growth disturbances like back problems and jumpers knees.

Than the follow up? Which class to choose if they become 15 years? It all depends on the local situation around the kids place. If parents were crazy enough to drag their kids around the globe in the first place, most of them sort of feel that that was enough, and the little brad which is always cross (puberty remember), can now finance his own stuff. The investment needed to start in a new class is mostly an argument to stop sailing.

In coastal areas in Spain and France things are pretty good organized in a structure like very active regional organizations and school sailing. However in a lot of countries the occasional volunteer at club level who will try to do his best and run some sort of youth training program hardly knows whatís going on. Let alone know how to get on at national or international level of sailing. So how to prepare?

With a little luck the kid than shows up in an Olympic classÖbut which one? Nowadays no matter which one you would choose, youíre never sure if itís going to keep its Olympic status over the next 4 years. And let us be honest my dear ISAF. If I would ask you right now, which class would stay at the Olympics in Beijing, You would probably start to stotter and couldnít give me one single clue.

Politics and decision making around this whole issue have become a managerial joke. How many meetings, lobbies, councils, investigation committees, etc. by so many people, without any high education (university like sports or Sport Wissenschaft) have been foxtrotting here. If an existing Olympic class doesnít have an almost full time lobbyist at work and which is constantly present during the whole dance in November of the Olympic year, heís likely to loose his Olympic status. We even lost a very important bridge to the discipline of match racing last time!!! (losing match racing and soling) Gentleman, please!

Well, whatever; our kid canít wait growing up. So, where to go from here? Only if he has won several world championships and some medals, heís likely to be asked on a big boat. By that time heís about 26 years at least. He will have to start lobbying to get on a decent boat, where the owner loves the game more instead of himself and maybe the kid gets into the circuit of professional sailors. But still, heíll need to learn a job like rigging or sail making etc. Otherwise heíll not be specialized enough, to keep up at the level of professionalism needed for Volvo OR or Americaís Cup.

With this said, and trying to imagine what the kid will need to learn, and how long it will take, and how many things are left to the factor of luck and not structure, I want you to think back at our 100 meters sprint example. 

How much clearer things are if at least the discipline stays the same! How logical is it that sailing has the reputation of holiday makers at the Olympics! It is a circus compared with the disciplined athletes that had to wrestle their Ölls off to get there, since those ď%$ß&(- stones never got any closer!

So we need a long term view. We need to bring down the numbers of disciplines and we should be conservative on the changes on the sport technical side of the sport.

If we look at our sport we have 3 types of racing. 

1. Round the Marks with its top level event being the Olympic Games
2. Long Distance with the Volvo OR being the Everest of sailing
3. Match Racing with the Americas Cup at its top.

Well, it would probably be asked a little bit too much off all involved, to get their finals at the same date and place. But this would be the biggest event in sailing history and future, wouldnít it? 
Just imagine that the final of the Americaís Cup, the finish of the last leg of the Volvo OR and the final of the Olympics in three classes, would all take place on the same day and at the same place. And that day would come back every four years. For at least the next 40 years.

This also does include the cut back of classes in which competition takes place. Not only at the Olympics but even more so in the youth class department of the sport. Not because the IOC wants to cut the budget for itís circus but because it will at first and foremost purify the sport. Which means it will bring the numbers of sailors down. Since only the persistent ones will keep on going. (remember the 100 m?) but is this a bad thing? The level will go up because of it.

Then after, letís say 10 years, itís going to be easier to say: ďThatís the best sailor in the world now, and thatís who Iím going to beatĒ and the guy next to you in the train will know who you mean, since there arenít 35 world champions anymore but only 5.
And he might even know what kind of boat that was since only these 5 boats have been allowed to race over the last 10 years. Even tough there was a big deal about it back then when they kicked out all those other boatsÖ.

Yeah Yeah, Iím a big dreamer. I knowÖ. But, gentlemen involved in making these decisions, please realise what to do. The IOC has different motives in saying we need less classes. We respect you, since youíve taken the responsibility to look after our sport. Thatís a big job, so please have a big thought about us first. Try to make decisions that go further than your shift at the helm. 

Off course I know that crazy ideas arenít likely to happen and I think that a lot of perspectives can be put against the one stated here above. But remember, keeping things the same doesnít always mean nothing happens. The stones didnít change, they were just there, and still see what came out of itÖÖÖ.

Happy dreams and Good winds

Rigo de Nijs

Do you think you have an interesting subject for the next article?, mail Rigo 


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