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Olympic Women’s Two-Person Skiff – Evaluation. Rebel designer Derek Clark gives his take…

The evaluation event for the Olympic Women’s Two Person Skiff was held between 17th and 25th March in Santander, Spain. A key part of that event was to be the feedback from the invited MNA sailors. This note sets out concerns about how effective that feedback was and whether therefore that evaluation process will identify the boat which best satisfies the criteria identified by ISAF specified in its Request for Proposal.

Background

In his Olympic commission report Phil Jones highlighted the requirements for the sailing events:

“The Olympic Games should be attractive to the youth of today, both from the point of view of participation and audience interest. Youth is excited by sailing fast, modern equipment. This is also the equipment that has the most spectator appeal. Our choices around Olympic equipment should reflect this”.

These aspirations were reflected in the Request for Proposal and in particular the criteria that the equipment should be “athletically challenging to the elite sailors of the world” and have “visual appeal for spectators, media and sailors”.

Evaluation Trials

On the 12th January 2012 on their website, ISAF issued invitations to their Member National Authorities (MNAs) for their national sailors to participate in the evaluation of the Women’s Skiff and Mixed Multihull boats for the 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition. On that web page Dick Batt, Chairman of the Equipment Committee said: "The opportunity to offer our National Authorities’ sailors participation in the evaluations is an important part of the process. The sailor feedback is invaluable in the final evaluation of the boats and we encourage MNAs to put forward sailors from around the world. The equipment evaluations will include analysis of many aspects of boat sailing characteristics that can only be established with suitable and experienced sailors handling the boats in varying conditions."

Concerns

However there are concerns that those involved in the testing were not all suitable or sufficiently experienced in twin trapeze skiff sailing to carry out this evaluation role and that no allowance for this was made in the evaluation process. The application form MNA’s were asked to complete for each of its candidate sailors included an experience section. We understand that unless the MNA had asked for more than two places all applications were accepted and none refused on the basis of experience.

However, observations during the testing (and raised at the time with those conducting the evaluation) were that the experience levels of more than half of the sailors attending the trials did not match Dick Batt’s requirement for suitable and experienced sailors. This was also reported in the Women’s Skiff and Mixed Multihull – Evaluation Process report published after the trials:

6. MNA Evaluation Sailors

“There was a wide range of experience and sailor’s ability at the evaluations. Some sailors were experienced in the boat types and some were less experienced”.

There were days when the manufacturer’s representatives were asked by the Evaluation panel to assist with sailing the boats because some of the sailors were not sufficiently experienced or skilled to do so in the weather and sea conditions. This experience spread prevented a proper evaluation of the criteria set by ISAF and in particular a boat that is “athletically challenging to the elite sailors of the world”.

We anticipate that the committee would agree that only elite sailors can decide what is challenging to them, it cannot be done by those far below that level. The Feedback questionnaire and associated analysis did not have a mechanism to take actual experience and skill into account. For example this means that the views of a sailor learning to twin trapeze were given equal weight to those with many years’ experience in the discipline.

We believe therefore that overall this had the effect of reducing the twin trapeze skiff “experience” of the group taken as a whole and therefore well below the elite level required or envisaged. It is natural (and logical) that the boats favoured by this mixed ability group were ones they were most comfortable with at the time they tested them, not the more challenging and demanding boats that an elite group would be able to sail.

It is clear from the Evaluation Panel Report that the feedback questionnaire completed by the MNA sailors formed a significant part of the Evaluation Panel ’s decision making process. We are therefore concerned that the selection process will not identify and select a boat which will meet ISAF’s criteria.

Options

For ISAF to make its decision with the best possible information we suggest that it should obtain further data on whether the boats are athletically challenging to elite sailors and make further analysis of the two currently short listed boats to assess the following:

A) The effects of the rig development, weight reduction and any other changes to the RS900 upon its the sailing performance.

B) To establish the extent to which the FX’s optimum weight range compares with the 110kg to 130kg range set by the ISAF criteria.

We suggest that this assessment is widened to include all the boats submitted for Evaluation, and that the assessment includes trials of the boats crewed by twin trapeze skiff experts and observed by experts to assess just what the boats are capable of and what challenges they could present even to an elite and therefore Olympic level crew.