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The New York Times features Kiteboarding in the Olympics

The New York Times featured the IKA's campaign to include Kiteboarding in the 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition in the recent report published on February 9, 2011:

"The world’s top Olympic sailors were in South Florida reading wind and waves aboard two-person dinghies, keelboats and windsurfers at the recent Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta. The sailing lineup has not really been altered much in the last 20 years.

But that is about to change, and this regatta provided a sneak peek into the sport’s future.

While Olympic medalists were being towed to their courses, kiteboarders skimmed along at twice their speed attached to inflatable kites at the end of 80 feet of razor-thin lines.

A new Olympic slate of classes for 2016, proposed last fall by the International Sailing Federation, or I.S.A.F., has turned the traditional sailing fleet on its head in the hope of attracting young viewers and higher television ratings, creating a sort of X Games for sailing. If men’s and women’s kiteboarding is selected, it will replace windsurfing.

“The Olympics want to promote the most advanced levels of sailing,” said Mike Gebhardt, a two-time Olympic medalist in windsurfing who raced his kiteboard in Miami. “This is high speed, visibly athletic, there are crashes, and you can tell who’s winning. That’s what sells.”

To boost support, the International Kiteboarding Association has been showcasing the fledgling discipline of kiteboard course racing at Olympic class regattas starting with a demonstration at I.S.A.F.’s first sailing World Cup event last December in Melbourne, Australia, and in Miami.

The venerable Star keelboat, in which the sport’s famous America’s Cup and Olympic medalists currently compete, including Brazil’s triple gold medalist and world yachtsman of the year, Torben Grael, is marked for elimination.

“The Star’s best asset is the sailors,” the two-time Star gold medalist Mark Reynolds said. “It represents the best of the sport with medalists from other classes racing.”

Additionally, two coed events being proposed would shift the gender split for Olympic sailing from nine men and seven women per national team to seven men and nine women.

“I.S.A.F. is on the right track to elevate the sport to a high standard,” said Gary Jobson, president of US Sailing and an ESPN and NBC sailing commentator. “Young people want action and excitement, like the X Games and slopestyle skiing.”

Jobson filmed the Miami event and said in a phone interview that it was time for an image change away from the coat-and-tie yachtsman.

Mandates by the International Olympic Committee have all Olympic sports re-evaluating the marketability of their events.

“The I.O.C. has moved from using a quantitative list to select events to an overall value-added selection process,” Christophe Dubi, sports director for the I.O.C. since 2008, said recently in a phone interview. “The criteria could be provenance or universality. It’s an issue of maximizing the platform we offer at the Olympics.”

Countries have until the I.S.A.F. May meeting to issue counterproposals for the 2016 slate but must offer full slates, as opposed to singling out one class for elimination or inclusion.

“Archery is a good example of a sport that is adapting,” Dubi said.

After consulting with officials from NBC and the I.O.C., Dubi said, “the format was made more compact and easier to understand in the final stages.”

“It has become one of our biggest TV products,” Dubi said.

He also pointed to the modern pentathlon, saying that combining running and shooting increased the ratings of the event.

Dubi said that sailing’s proposed slate of events was a good step forward but that the sport was still difficult to understand.

“Our most exciting images of the Games are from sailing,” Dubi said. “Your stadium is the water and I.S.A.F. is working on making this more spectator-friendly. This is what everyone should be doing.”

Dubi said sailing was in no risk of losing its place at the Olympics.

I.S.A.F. has long been challenged to make what is inherently a participatory sport a spectator sport, said the federation’s secretary, Jerome Pels, adding that the boats used are just as important to broadening appeal as how the sport is covered.

Left on the proposed slate are two men’s one-person classes, the Laser and Finn; the one-person women’s Laser Radial; the men’s 49er skiff; the women’s match racing in the Elliot 6 meter; and a new coed multihull event.

“There is a concern that new events like kiteboarding will be considered unfair,” Pels said. “Skiing’s snowboardcross came very much out of sports marketing and garnered huge popularity in Vancouver. You can come up with something a bit out of the box but stumble upon something very attractive.”

Changes to make sailing more understandable and television friendly were implemented for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Pels said. The new RSX windsurfer is now the fastest class. The advent of on-water umpiring lets the results stand on the field of play and the new Medal Race format makes it such that the gold medal is more often than not determined in the double-points last race. In the past, the event could have been won before the last day of competition or the results could have been unknown until an off-the-water jury heard protests.

I.S.A.F. has also been working with the newly revamped America’s Cup, which will use high-speed catamarans for the 2013 Cup to help make a more marketable television package.

“If we can marry technology with the compelling nature of the sport, that will make people start paying attention,” said Richard Worth, chairman of the America’s Cup Event Authority and a former marketer for the Union of European Football Associations, which is responsible for the steady rise in popularity of European soccer.

The A.C.E.A. and Stan Honey, the recent United States yachtsman of the year and co-inventor of the digital first-down line and line of scrimmage in football, are testing over the next month GPS technology overlay for live helicopter views of sailboat racing. This will show the viewer what is happening and who is winning at all times.

Beyond technology, Gebhardt believes Olympic sailing needs to be simple and exciting.

“People need to be updated and educated as they watch,” he said. “Right now kites are the fastest sailing craft on the planet: 55 knots. People will get it.”

The RSX windsurfers and Star sailors may have seen their future Olympic dreams fade as Gebhardt went skimming by in Miami. But Jobson believes at least the windsurfers’ future is safe, for now.

“Kiteboarding is a new thing,” he said. “At best it is an exhibition like windsurfing was at the 1984 Games in Long Beach. The Star has been around for 100 years. It has had a good run. Advancing is part of the Olympic spirit.” "