2016 Olympics: One step forward and three steps back

GBR Team Macgregor, Elliott 6m - Skandia Sail for Gold regatta. The class was dropped by the ISAF before its first Olympics

Carol Cronin, US Womens Olympic Keelboat representative at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, gives her views on the recent decision by the International Sailing Federation to drop both the Men's and Women's keelboat events from the 2016 Olympics:

During the International Sailing Federation's mid-year meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, Olympic sailing made one step forward. Unfortunately, it also took three steps back.

Step Forward into the Future
Here’s the good news: the final slate for Rio 2016 includes a women’s skiff, one of the few places where what’s 'good for TV' and what’s 'good for athletes' dovetail. Though the actual equipment hasn’t yet been chosen, the 29erXX seems a likely choice, especially since it was just recognized as an ISAF international class.

Step Back #1: Two 470 Medals

The 2016 slate has reverted to a men’s and a women’s medal in the 470, instead of the single 'mixed gender' medal approved in November 2010. This step back to a traditional Olympic roster (along with the retention of the 'men’s heavyweight dinghy,' aka Finn) shows how Eurocentric the thinking remains—at a supposedly International Sailing Federation.

Step Back #2: Eliminating keelboats, or throwing out the baby with the bathwater

For years I’ve followed the battle over whether to keep the Star in the Games. Yes, it’s a venerable boat with many visible heroes, but an arms race to develop the fastest hull shape within the confines (and loopholes) of a 100 year old set of class rules is ridiculous. And after eighty years in the Olympic family, the class is established enough to carry on around the world.

Third place overall: Carol Cronin, Margaret Podlich, Kate Fears and Kim Couranz - Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship 2009
© Rolex / Dan Nerney

What really fries me is the elimination of the women’s keelboat, the Elliott 6m. Yes, I’m biased, both as an American (we could easily fill an entire Olympic podium with our 2012 Olympic hopefuls) and as the skipper of the first US women’s keelboat Olympic team. But even when I step beyond my bias and look at what’s good for our sport, this change still doesn’t make any sense.

The Elliott 6m was specifically developed to be the supplied equipment for women’s match racing in 2012. The boats are fun to sail (much more so than the stodgy Yngling), fun to watch (ditto), and offer a modern platform for keelboat racing, the segment of our sport with the largest participation.

USA Team Cronin - Carol Cronin, Kim Couranz and Margaret Podlich
. ©

For the past three and a half years, national sailing programs have purchased pairs or fleets of these exciting boats, a significant investment even for larger countries. ISAF has just waved two middle fingers at all those programs—especially 2016 Games host Brazil, which took delivery of their Elliotts on the same day as this final vote.

Worst of all, ISAF is justifying its decision as cost-reducing, when what it really reduces is any return on investment. Eliminate match racing if it’s too expensive—but don’t make this excellent keelboat obsolete after only three years.

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