Final Day Jeopardy

Not only have the new foiling classes increased the speed of Olympic sailing, they’re also bringing more radical ideas to race formats and finals.

Since Beijing 2008, the 10-boat Medal Race has been the finals format for Olympic competition. At the time it was seen as controversial, the double-points non-discardable Medal Race seen as skewing the competition unfairly in favour of final-day fortunes in a sport that had rewarded week-long consistency. Now the Medal Race is part of the furniture. That’s how all the boat classes – the ILCA 6 and ILCA 7, Mixed 470, 49er and 49erFX, and the Nacra 17 – are continuing to close out their regattas from now through to the Paris 2024 Games.

What used to be seen as the radical option looks conservative compared with the formats being used to decide the medals in the new foiling fleets. In the Formula Kiteboard divisions, neither the Men’s leader Theo de Ramecourt (FRA) or Lauriane Nolot (FRA) at the head of the Women’s fleet have any guarantee of the podium on the final day. Despite both athletes having raced a stellar regatta up to the end of qualifying, anyone as far down as 14th in the current standings could go on to win kitefoiling gold. This is the highest level of final-day jeopardy ever seen in Olympic competition.

However, de Ramecourt doesn’t see it so starkly. “As the winner of qualifying I carry two ‘race wins’ into the final,” he says. The boards contest a four-board final where it’s the first to three wins. “So if I win a race in the final, I become the overall winner. I think it is a fair system.” The second-placed athlete in qualifying, Benoit Gomez (FRA), takes through one race win. Two other riders from 3rd to 14th will fight it out for the right to go up against de Ramecourt and Gomez, but will have no ‘race wins’ to take through with them. So the deck is stacked in de Ramecourt’s favour, yet still no medal secured until he gets that race win.

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