Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scrap the Medal Race Fiasco Now

The genius who thought up the "medal race" concept for Olympic sailing should be fired. The whole idea is a dismal failure. Let's scrap the medal race fiasco now.

It was all supposed to make sailing easier to understand for the general public. Supposedly we dumb sailing TV viewers didn't understand how a sailor could do so well in a long series that he could skip the final race and still win the gold medal. The genius who thought up the medal race probably imagined that the winner of the medal race would win the gold medal. It would be an exciting final showdown to the Olympic regatta. It would turn sailing into a popular TV sport.

So the aforementioned genius came up with the idea of a medal race... compulsory race for top ten boats, double points, no discards. Brilliant.

Problem is that it hasn't worked. Just look at this week's medal races...

  • In the men's 470, the Australian team had such a huge points lead going into the medal race that they could have finished last in the medal race and would still have won the gold. Thrilling.

  • In the 49ers, the Danish team sailed the Croatian boat, started four minutes late, finished seventh, and still won the gold medal. Logical.

  • And here's the real kicker. In the Lasers, the Swedish sailor ended the fleet racing in second place behind the Brit in first. But the Brit had such a large lead that, to win the gold, he just needed to ensure that he wasn't last and the Swede wasn't first in the medal race. So the Brit match-raced the Swede and they finished ninth and tenth in the medal race. The Brit got the gold. The Swede, arguably the second-best Laser sailor at the Olympics, finished sixth overall in the rankings, with no medal at all. I don't blame the Brit for what he did, but here's the real irony. If the Swede had had a point or two less in the regular fleet racing the Brit would have not need to have match-race him to win the gold, and the Swede may well have won the silver or bronze medal. So the medal race concept can actually incentivize a sailor to do worse in the earlier races in order to win a medal. Explain that to your average TV viewer.

  • It was all supposed to be about making TV exciting for the Olympics, right? What TV? There was no TV coverage of sailing in the Olympics this year in the USA, the largest, most lucrative TV market in the world.
So let's scrap this medal race nonsense now. It's a crock.


Drwatershed said...

Even the internet coverage is sparse. (we probably are the largest internet market in the world too but I don't know that stat offhand) The "rewind" tapes are great but only about 1 in 8 races are available and they are not labeled correctly so it is hard to find a race for a particular day or boat and you can scan three hours of tape and not see what you went to see. Despite your concerns about the 49er, that race was great on the rewind tape and should have been covered on TV it would get the NASCAR crowd interested in sailing. The Brits apparently had both better TV and internet coverage but NBCs deal locked out the BBC internet feeds so we can't see the BBC tape from USA URLs. It would have been worth staying up past midnight to see Tunnicliffe clinch gold live, I watched the rewind tape and it was a great race (though the wind was a bit light) glad at least that race was available, I haven't found a tape of Campbell sailing yet, despite his disappointing finishes he did some nice sailing. Someone needs to tell Bob Costas how much money there is in sailboats and that NBC should play to our demographic, and stop with the endless discussions of gymnastics.

Tillerman said...

Take your point about the 49ers. But just imagine if the whole fleet of them had been out crashing and burning on that final day, and not just the top ten. Even NBC might have seen the potential in that carnage.

Anonymous said...

TV? What TV exactly? They didn't even mention Anna Tunnicliffe. I thought I saw some sailing yesterday but no it was some soppy TV commercial featuring John Dane.

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

This year has seen the best coverage of sailing ever on TV in the UK, even if it does mean getting up at 6am to watch it, at least there has been coverage and pretty good coverage at that.

I would agree that the Medal race can put a skew onto the results but I am not convinced that it is a terrible thing. The fact that in the Laser fleet the eventual Gold winner matched raced his nearest rival out of contention is nothing new in series sailing events. On the whole the results did reflect the overall performance of the crews and it added to overall pressure. I think it tended to bring out the best in the competitors, they had to dig deep and make it work and it was great TV. I think the Star class race was the best for nail bitting tension.

Anonymous said...

TV coverage, perhaps I'm studpid...

...but I can't even find where ya'll are watching the races online in rewind.

Tillerman said...

Tanzsegler, the NBC TV coverage (probably only available in the US) is at

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tillerman. In its current form, the medal race detracts from the rest of the regatta.

Tim's point about match racing a competitor at the conclusion of a series is true. But, the big difference is that you can never drop the medal race.

Pat said...

Is it really the medal race that's such a big problem? Or are there other issues that make Olympic sailing less exciting or accessible? Such as having to maybe wait a few months to watch more of the races on DVD if they become available?

Here's my take on teams' relative performances (to summarize a long post on desertsea):

1. Great Britain
2. Lithuania
3. Australia
4. Spain
5. Denmark
6. Netherlands
7. New Zealand
8. France
9. United States
10. Slovenia

Jos said...

On this I totally disagree with you Tillerman. But I said as muvh on my blog already.

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

Derek, I don't disagree about the effect the medal race can have on skewing the results, I am just saying that it has the effect of creating the potential for exciting TV coverage and it isn't entirly unfair on the competitors, it is just a different kind of competition to the normal style and I think it needs to be as no other dinghy racing has such world wide TV exposure.

Tillerman said...

And just in case anyone was under the illusion that the medal race would decide the medals quickly... Not only was there a protest against the Danish 49er decided by the International Jury, it still ain't over...

“The ad hoc Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has received an application from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and the Spanish Olympic committee (COE) against two decisions of the International Jury of the International Sailing federation
(ISAF) related to the gold medal race of the 49er event which took place on 17 August 2008 .A hearing in this matter will take place on 23 August 2008 at 09.00am.”

David said...

Obviously dreamed up by a bunch of folks with too much shore time on their hands. Making any one race arbitrarily more important than the others seems counter to what series racing is all about--consistency wins. What was wrong with simple?

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

The Medal race is for the TV coverage, it is not ment to be the same as the other races and although it seems unfair the conditions are the same for all the competitors.
The problem is that folk are trying to compare it to a regular series event and it isn't, its the olympics! The only people who need to worry about it are the competitors and that rules most of us out so what's the big deal?

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

I saw about 20 seconds of the sailing on the tellie... and we Aussies won two flipping gold medals... but you wouldn't have known it! A terrible state of affairs!

David said...

OK, Tim, if I follow your logic . . . Every basket in the 4th quarter counts as four points, double the difficulty for the last dive, the anchor in the 4x100 has to run 200, and double the deductions in the last gymnastics rotation. No big deal, I guess--it's the Olympics!

Pat said...

Some of the other Olympic sports seem to be different in that they have less pressure on the initial number of entries, but then have preliminary, semifinal, and final rounds. Of course, in many of these sports, a heat or race lasts only a few minutes, whereas sailing can take hours, and sailing also is more equipment-intensive than some other sports.

Prior to the medal races, in sailing, all the competitors are on the course simultaneously, whereas in most other Olympic events the field is winnowed down drastically by the time of the final competition.

Is perhaps the medal round a tentative move to make sailing more like some of the other Olympic events?

Could you imagine sailing events having a preliminary series followed by a Medal (final) series?

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