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Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

No USA Medals in Sailing; Match Racing Shows Olympic Potential

For the first time since 1936, the US came up dry in the sailing medal count when gold medal favorite Anna Tunnicliffe and team failed to make the final four. And according to Gael Pawson, the Women's Match Racing format dragged on for far too long.

After holding on to the #1 world ranking for the past year, Anna Tunnicliffe’s team were the gold medal favorites going into the Olympics. Anna won gold in the Laser Radial in 2008, and with Molly Vandermoer and Debbie Capozzi she’d won eight of the last ten grade one match racing events. But now the gold medal round will take place without them.

London 2012 Olympics Women's Match Racing USA vs FIN

Team USA won the first match of the day, but couldn’t quite get past the Finnish team in the final race. Photo Daniel Forster/go4image.com

The #2 ranked international match racing team, led by Lucy MacGregor from Great Britain, has also been eliminated. The battle for medals will be contested by Australia, Finland, Spain and Russia.

“I can’t describe how upset and disappointed we all feel, but we know we gave it our all,” Anna reported in her post-race blog. But she is already thinking about the upcoming consolation series, a battle for fifth. “Yes, we are out of the medals, but our regatta isn’t over and we want to finish as high as possible for Team USA.”

There’s no doubt that the match racing has been exciting to watch. Whether from the shore, or on TV, following boat-on-boat in the slickly-handled Elliot 6ms, you can’t help but get swept into the battle. You might not understand exactly why one boat suddenly has to stop and spin round in a circle, but you do realize they have broken a rule and been penalised for it. You can see the nip-and-tuck, the slick manoeuvres… as well as when a spinnaker doesn’t go up quite perfectly, a gybe is messed up, or a gust sends the boat behind flying past the leader.

But while match racing has proved its potential, it has also proved a bit of a damp squib here at the London 2012 Olympics. Why? Quite simply it has gone on for way too long.

It wasn’t until day six that we saw any teams knocked out – the round robins seemed to go on and on. Meanwhile, each of the fleet racing events was building up to the crescendo of its medal race. There was a story, as boats moved up and down in the rankings. In the match racing, it seemed, there was racing every day but it wasn’t making much of a difference. Many teams were tied on points, and when the round robin finished, just four teams went home and the competition started from scratch. Little wonder that the press didn’t pay much attention. Little wonder that it was completely sidelined by the fleet racing stories.

I think match racing’s impact would have been so much stronger if it had been a three or four-day event. A knock-out competition could have been a thrilling climax to a fabulous week of Olympic sailing. We do have the finals as the last event of the Games, but by then most nations will be out, and the press (never mind the public) will have switched off somewhere along the way.

This is all pretty irrelevant as the discipline is due to be dropped for 2016 – but again that seems a lost opportunity. Imagine a mixed match racing event, with teams of four and a 50% male/female split. Pick the right teams, condense the racing and you could have a rather cool Olympic finale with a similar feel to the Athletics relay events. Competitors in the Star class, also dropped for 2016, bemoan the complete loss of keelboat racing in the Olympics, citing its role as a stepping stone to professional sailing. A mixed match racing event could have ticked every box.

- Gael Pawson

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Editors’ Note: Gael is providing special reports on the US Sailing Team throughout the events in Weymouth. For previous posts, see below: