2016 Olympics: The Shooting of the Star

Andrew Campbell and Brad Nichol (USA) in action in the Star class on day 5 of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta.

In what seems like yet another major oversight by the ISAF Council, the two keelboat classes: the Olympic Star and the Women’s Match Race formats were both dropped from the next Games in 2016 in Rio. This happens to some class or another every time there is a vote for classes at the Olympics.

The Star was dropped before the 2000 Games in Sydney before being reinstated. The Soling Match Race event was dropped for the 2004 Games. The Tornado Multihull was dropped for this upcoming Olympics in London and Weymouth. And now the Olympic Keelboat both Men’s and Women’s have been conspicuously omitted from the 2016 program in Rio. It’s a major disappointment for a lot of sailors both on and off of the Olympic circuit. Unlike Women’s Match Racing the Star has had a venerable run in Olympic competition having first been introduced in the 1932 Olympics. Yes, you read correctly, 80 years of Olympic history, finished. 2011 is almost ironically a big year for the Star class as it celebrates its 100th year of history at the Centennial Regatta in Larchmont, NY this September.

Without a doubt, Star sailing is what inspired me to pursue my Olympic ambitions first in the Laser and now in the premier one design keelboat in the world. San Diego Yacht Club’s hosting of the 1994 Star Worlds opened this 10-year-old’s eyes along with hundreds of other junior sailors showing us what world class international sailing was all about. We pushed trailers around the boat park and helped tie boats up to slips while we marveled at the many languages and experiences bellowing from these giants (quite literally in some cases) of the sport. These guys were my heroes in the midst of the America’s Cup also going on at SDYC at the time.

Andrew Campbell, tactician, hanging off the back in big breeze- Melges 24 North American Champinships 2008

Today as I walk the docks of these foreign ports and mingle with the elite sailors of Olympic as well as professional sailing it is never lost on me that there are young eyes observing our every move, following our results, and practicing their skills long after we have left town with hopes that they may one day be able to compete with us and at our level. Perhaps the greatest asset that the Star class brought to the table for this Olympic selection was the caliber of the talent and its strong connection to fleets around the world. Each top sailor involved at the Olympic level has a strong connection with his home fleet in some way or another. That trickle down in the form of inspiration and exposure to sailors both young and old across the globe is not to be diminished as a major factor for the health of our sport.

While I understand the desire for ISAF to pursue the faster, more accessible, and media friendly classes for the Olympics, I cannot agree with their casting aside of the single most recognizable representation of our sport to sailors and non-sailors alike: the keelboat. I felt much the same way about the multihull and the decision to remove that sector of the sport from the docket in 2012. ISAF is missing a grand opportunity to showcase a very important part of our game by not presenting the multihull when the Olympics come to London and Weymouth. The difference in my mind is while multihulls are one sector of the sport, while keelboats are the mainstream.

Race winner, Andrew Campbell (USA) looks upwind soon after the start of Race 3, Day 5 of the 2008 Olympic Regatta

Fried Elliott in the lobby at the final day of the 2011 International Sailing Federation Mid-Year Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia. His shirt reads, "Our 2nd Century of Excellence Begins Today” and was signed by all Star sailors in attendance at the meeting. Photo by Barbara Beigel-Vosbury
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Dinghy sailing is a precursor for sailors all over the world who will eventually pursue their passion in some form of keelboat sailing. Without a doubt the omission of the keelboats for both men and women will likewise omit some of the gravitas involved with Olympic competition in the future. Regardless of Olympic status the Star will continue to attract some of the best sailors in the world simply because of the support of its fleets and its history, but it will likely lose some of the elite competition driven by the additional weight of Olympic dreams.

Beyond that the class will remain as the single greatest example of any Olympic class in history for its evolution and adaptation to maintain Olympic status. Other classes on the chopping block should observe how the Star has preserved both its fantastic culture of racing at the Local, Regional, and International level, while also continuing as an Olympic Class. Other Olympic classes can boast one or the other, but not often both. The developmental nature of the class rules and the progressive and intuitive nature of its membership are quite simply unparalleled. What better year to be involved with the Olympic Star than 2011? This story will undoubtedly develop over the next few weeks as we head to Weymouth to start our Olympic Trials next month.

Stay tuned at www.CampbellSailing.com

For more information: StarClass.org