Star and Elliott to set sail in major shake-up

Iain Percy, right, and Andrew Simpson celebrates after winning the gold medal for the Star sailing competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympics
Iain Percy, right, and Andrew Simpson celebrates after winning the gold medal for the Star sailing competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympics
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Next year’s Olympic regatta in Weymouth may be the primary focus for Britain’s top-flight dinghy sailors, but even they will have taken time out to digest the major changes that will come in to play at the Rio games in 2016.

Out goes Olympic sailing’s longest-established class the Star – in which Winchester’s Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson won gold in Beijing – along with its most recent addition, the Elliott 6m women’s match racing event.

The men’s and women’s wind-surfing classes will also be evaluated to see if they should be replaced by kitesurfing events.

Replacing the Star and Elliott will be a women’s skiff class and a revived multi-hull event for a mixed crew.

Decisions on exactly which boats will be used will be made after evaluations running to November 2012.

While the reintroduction of a multi-hull class has been widely acclaimed, some critics point to what they see as flip-flop decision making at sailing’s governing body – the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).

Its 2007 decision to drop the Tornado catamaran from 2012 was greeted with widespread incredulity at a time when multi-hull racing was growing worldwide, and the decision to lose the Elliott was taken before it even made its Olympic debut.

Nevertheless, last weekend’s ISAF announcement got a qualified welcome from the Hamble-based Royal Yachting Association.

‘The RYA is supportive of the slate of events agreed by the ISAF council, which shows progression within the sport and a clear pathway now, particularly for girls transitioning from the youth classes into Olympic campaigning,’ said John Derbyshire, the RYA’s racing manager and performance director.

‘It’s disappointing, in some ways, to be losing an old friend with the removal of the Star class, which has been a fixture in Olympic sailing since 1932, and that women’s match racing hasn’t proved as successful as it was hoped it might.

‘The mood of the meeting clearly showed that the retention of the keelboat events is not the right thing for the future growth and appeal of the sport in Olympic terms right now and that the events chosen reflect more the mass participation of young sailors within sailing and the RYA supports those views.’

Britain’s Olympic sailors have shown themselves to be adept at switching between classes, so the changes will be unlikely to damage Team GBR’s hard-won status as a medal-winning machine.

Meanwhile, the long-running background threat to Olympic sailing as a whole – it is relatively expensive to put on and its TV viewing figures are in the basement – remains, so ISAF fans and critics alike will be hoping the governing body has got it right.