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.