Thursday, 21 August 2008

Olympic Medal Races

In the articles and news stories about the Olympics, I read over and over again that we are viewing the first Olympic Medal races. True enough, but a little derogative for all those people who have developed the system in the last six years.

A lot of time, experiencing and rules tweaking has gone into getting to a concept that works. I remember a SPA regatta four or five years ago where the medal race was still an experiment. A lot got done since then. By ISAF, by Rules Specialists, by the Sailors, by Race Management and by Organizing Authorities. All to keep the sport of sailing into the Olympics.

It is very easy to have critique about what is flawed about this concept and perhaps uninteresting to have an eye for all the positive effect that it has.

With all it's drama, in heartbreaking moments for losers and jubilations for the winners, it brings out the best in sailing.

It gives the ten best sailors of the opening-series a direct change to sail in front of the camera's, sail in front of their countrymen, sail for their families and friends and show them what they have worked so hard for, in all those years.

With direct judging everybody knows who is the winner, as soon as the last boat is in. I refuse to believe that an average viewer is unable to understand a simple points system and must be satisfied with first over the line. Add a little more effort in tracking and superimposing positions on TV and everybody will be able to empathize with the sailors, even more.

Of course their are exceptions, sailing is a complicated sport with many variables. But that adds to the drama. Nobody had thought beforehand about this particular sequence of events in the 49er Medal Race, with DEN sailing in the CRO boat. It got handled. The Jury reached a decision after looking at all the facts and hearing evidence from all the parties. Twice.

The shine on this particular Golden Olympic medal will last a lifetime.


  1. Well of course it would be nice if the medal race decided the medals quickly, or even if the International Jury quickly decided any subsequent protests.

    But the Italians and Spanish have decided to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport about the decision to award the gold medal to Denmark. A hearing will take place on 23 August 2008.

  2. I heartily approve the medal race format.

    With limited time available, it allowed me to focus a couple of hours of viewing each day to key races involving the top sailors. It gave two interesting milestones to track: qualification for the medal race and then success in the medal race (thus it was interesting to track the US boats in the 49er, Star and other classes even though they ultimately fell out of medal contention). I liked the number of boats in the MR, making it easier to track tactics (and view the race graphics when they were shown).

    Only two things really troubled me about the Qindao format. The first was how the short courses in the medal races made it hard to recover from any early start (OCS) or foul. Perhaps that increased the drama (it certainly did for Anna Tunnicliffe in the Laser Radial), and it made the coverage short and sweet. But it felt as I was watching that a slightly longer course would be nice.

    Second, when showing the races to my non-sailing friends, I wasn't sure I liked the way carryover of points from the qualifying races affected the medal race. While the average viewer can indeed understand a simple points system, watching the UK hold back Sweden in the Lasers and then win Gold after finishing well back in the pack was less than satisfying. It made me think of how upsetting it would be in swimming if the US Men's Relay had been able to physically restrain the French and coast to Gold on previous points. While all racing sailors can appreciate the rationale for a multi-race points system, it felt as if the match racing tactics are out of place in the medal race and even seem unsportsmanlike to a general audience. Gary Jobson commented how he'd be inclined to see triple points for the medal race, and now I can see why.

    In all, though, kudos to all who worked on refining the medal race format and bringing it to the Olympics. That was the best continuous regatta coverage with multiple classes that I've ever seen.


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