Editorial: Changing perceptions
Probably the most remarkable story in this edition of Sail-World.com is that of Anna Tunnicliffe (USA). Despite winning the Rolex Sailor of the Year twice, and an Olympic Gold medal, the British born, US resident is not a household name in New Zealand.
But as one of the icons of women's sailing, that is more a reflection on the New Zealand psyche than Tunnicliffe's formidable achievements.
This week she lifted Women's sailing to a new level, when she qualified for the World CrossFit Games. How many male sailors have achieved that feat, or operated at the top of the game in a second sporting discipline?
Tunnicliffe sandwiches her Crossfit competitions with sailing on the Extreme Sailing Series aboard Alinghi, the current Series leader, where she is the tactician. Olympic Gold medal winning rower and America's Cup grinder, Rob Waddell (NZL), is one who comes close - but that was with a distinct switch between sports (and major diet/physique change), not competing in both within the same week.
The Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014. Act 3. Qingdao. China Alinghi and Red Bull crash on the startline today
Expanding the sport of sailing is at the top of most sailing administrator’s to-do lists, it should be at the top of all current sailors’ as well – on the basis that the more people that sail the sport, the more friends you will have.
Sailing as long been a male domain, and, in fact, a white male domain.
Since 2008, the International Sailing Federation has taken the lead - introducing new classes, bringing more gender balance at the Olympic level, and encouraging more of the so-called developing countries into sailing and to compete Olympic levels. That last point will receive further impetus when a system of regional qualification comes into play – where about half of the Olympic competitors will be selected on a regional selection system rather than just on places in World Championships.
Darren Bundock/Nina Curtis – Nacra 17 - 2014 Delta Lloyd Regatta
The moves from the ISAF are not entirely altruistic on the part of the world body, but came after some very negative feedback on the sport by the International Olympic Committee, and it was a matter of change or put sailing 'at risk’ as an Olympic sport.
But we digress.
Despite all the ISAF’s moves, what Women’s Sailing has still lacked is that hard physical edge that the men's side of the sport has always enjoyed - be it grinders in an America’s Cup boat, or a bowman going hand over hand out on some extremity as their stead charges at full pace.
Land Rover global sailing ambassador Hannah White takes to the Land Rover Extreme 40 on the final day of racing in 2013.
Anna Tunnicliffe changes that paradigm. Have a look at her CrossFit story in this edition, and the photos and the video. It will change your perception of women in sailing and sport generally.
The introduction of the 49erFX as the Women's skiff at the Olympic Regatta will also do the same, but maybe not as dramatically as Tunnicliffe’s latest achievement.
Even so, have a look at some of the images from Christophe Launay of a French 49erFX crew. The backlit images are indistinguishable from a male crew. And when that point of difference is erased, you are well on the way to having equality of perception.
Hannah White is another remarkable talent who can operate at the top of two levels of the sport.
49erFX pair Sarah Steyaert and Julie Bossard training during a sunny and windy day in Marseille, France.
In this edition she conducts an interview with fellow Brit, Paul Campbell-James on his re-injection into the Extreme Sailing Series as helmsman on Gazprom Team Russia.
White made her mark in singlehanded sailing, sailing in Trans-Atlantic races, starting her first at the age of 22yrs and then finishing second four years later, competing against male crews. Her on-board reporting started a media career.
Hannah White should be known to New Zealanders as the on-stage presenter for the last Volvo Ocean Race – she was remarkable for her Jaggeresque ability to wind up the crowd in very short order. White really made the Auckland, and all the other stopovers, come alight, and that was all in parallel with her many gigs as a sailing media commentator and interviewer.
Coral Headey and Finn Croft - NZL Youth Olympic Team - 2014
Fellow Brit, Shirley Robertson, a double Olympic Gold medalist, has forged a similar path into the media with her top-rating and long-running CNN Mainsail series, which is the sport’s premier TV sailing program.
What both White and Robertson bring to the sport is the ability to both present the sport in a fresh and appealing way. How many male commentators could do the link commentary for a TV show while helming an 18fter on Sydney harbour as Robertson did recently?.
For her part, White is the Land Rover Global Brand Ambassador, and we look forward to seeing more of her work in the Extreme Sailing Series, backed by Land Rover.
Sophie Ciszek on the bow of Team SCA Volvo Ocean 65 during training in Lanzarote.
Women in sailing of course open up a whole new set of options for sailing sponsorship and career opportunities within the sport. But that is another subject entirely.
Hopefully the example of Tunnicliffe, White and Roberston will encourage young female sailors to stay with the sport, instead of dropping out as so many do when they strike the professional sailing ceiling.
Alastair Gifford - NZL Youth Olympic Team 2014
Certainly the male perception of women in sailing should be rapidly changing.
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