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Windsurfers in the London Olympics aren’t competing only for medals, they’re fighting to keep their sport in the games.
Introduced as an Olympic event in 1984 at Los Angeles, windsurfing is due to be replaced by kiteboarding for the Rio de Janeiro Games four years from now.
This year’s sailors say they can convince decision makers that windsurfing deserves a place in 2016.
“It’s devastating that it’s no longer going to be in the games,” said Bryony Shaw, 29, who won a bronze medal for Britain in Beijing in 2008. “It’s the loss of a great sport.”
Windsurfers are propelled by a sail and a mast attached to a surfboard-like hull. In kiteboarding, sailors on similar boards get pulled along by a sail attached to tethers that they hold.
International Sailing Federation President Goran Petersson announced the decision to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding at the Rio Olympics in May, saying in a statement that the sport has “proven to us that it’s ready to be included.”
While decisions made by the sport’s governing body are considered final, U.S. windsurfer Farrah Hall said there have been so many complaints by sailors that the body may take a second look when it meets in November.
“The decision is bad for sailing as an entire Olympic sport, so it has further-reaching implications,” she said at the sailing venue in Weymouth, England.
Sailing federation spokesman Daniel Smith said in an e-mail that the body declined to comment on whether it would reconsider its decision. The organization is working toward including kiteboarding.
There would be two kiteboarding races in Rio, one each for men and women, just as with windsurfing in London.
“Kiteboard racing is 100 percent sailing, it has the same rules, same tactics, you just don’t have a mast and it’s much faster,” Markus Schwendtner, 42, executive secretary of the International Kiteboarding Association, said in an interview from Berlin. The sport is more spectator friendly in light winds, guaranteeing a dramatic performance regardless of the conditions, he said.
“The biggest problem sailing is facing is being attractive to the media, and the only way to address that is with these modern boats,” Schwendtner said, referring to kiteboarding and the Nacra 17 catamaran, which will also appear in Rio. “In no other sport do you see such outdated equipment being used at the pinnacle of the sport.”
Kiteboarding is entertaining and will deserve an Olympic slot “at some point,” U.S. windsurfer Bob Willis, 25, said in a news conference last week. Many windsurfers in this year’s Olympic venue at Weymouth Bay, 110 miles (177 kilometers) south of London, probably will switch to kiteboarding, he said.
The two sports are very different and shouldn’t be competing for slots in 2016, Schwendtner said.
“Putting windsurfing and kiteboarding against each other is the worst thing that could happen,” he said, adding that he does expect to see many athletes switch events. “In the U.K., those that switched from windsurfing to kiteboarding are pretty much on top of the game.”
Even with the possibility of becoming a kiteboarder, the decision to scrap windsurfing still disappoints Hall, a first- time Olympian, and may mean that London is the only chance she has for an Olympic medal. Windsurfers are petitioning their national representatives to the sailing federation to change their vote, said Hall, 30.
For Britain’s Shaw, the most important petitioning will take place in the competition in Weymouth. Both windsurfing medal races are scheduled for Aug. 7.
“I try to spin it into a positive and heighten my focus for these games,” she said. “It’s the loss of a great sport, and I’m sure we’ll showcase how great it can all look.”
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