Medal Race – a necessity? No!

Paul Goodison rounds the first mark ahead of Rasmus Myrgren (SWE) after Goodison match raced his nearest rival off the Medal race course in the Mens Laser class 2008 Olympics
The medal race, aimed to be the climax of each class’s series at the Olympics, a media-hyped orgasm, is proving little short of a tediously boring thirty-minute yawn in which the gold medallist is often found near the back of the ten boats that have qualified. For media (and for that read television) it simply will not do.

The medal raced was introduced because there were occasions previously when the Gold medallists sat out the last race as they had already done enough to win the series and used the last race as their discard. This upset a Scandinavian television company that sent a camera crew to the regatta only to find their gold medallist was enjoying a day on the beach!

The result was considerable head scratching and the first alternative, based on the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) basis was to eliminate the discard altogether so that the sailors would have to count all their results. This had the added bonus of rewarding consistency.

The idea was passed by the ISAF Council, but withdrawn when some competitors complained that they were training to the idea of a dropped race in their score and two years was not enough time to alter their habits.

So, the world waited while the medal race was born and maybe that too should have been aborted. Seven medal races have now been held in Qingdao – short, but hardly sharp, affairs – and very little resolved that could not have been settled using the previous system.

They have only tended to highlight the match races that the series leaders have used to ensure their gold medals.

And the double points has made it more difficult for the second placed sailors to retain their silver medal positions.

Take, for instance, the case of Rasmus Myrgren. The Swedish skipper was hardly a threat to Britain’s Paul Goodison unless he won the medal race with Goodison last. The British sailor took the initiative and sailed the Swede to the back of the fleet.

Myrgren had a good chance of silver, with a three point lead over Gustavo Lima of Portugal, four over Vasilij Zbogar of Croatia and six in front of Diego Romero, the Italian.

But his medal was totally blown away by Goodison’s determination to ensure the gold.

It was a travesty of competition as envisaged by all sailors.

The demands of television have debased sailing competition in the Olympic Games and the sham of the medal race must be removed as soon as possible.