A recent New York Times opinion piece singled out sailing as a sport that should be eliminated from the Olympics because it is expensive and exclusive. Actually, under those terms, it fits right into the Olympic family. Exclusive? Sure, at the Olympic level. Expensive? Absolutely. But what Olympic sport isn't in today's world of professional athletes?
As a 2004 Olympian, I can tell you that sailing is very much an Olympics-worthy sport. It demands lightning-quick reaction times, thousands of hours of training, fitness of mind and body. Faster, Higher, Stronger: the Olympic ideals, played out for the world to see in an open water arena.
It also demands an ability to fundraise, at least for the majority of sailors who can't afford a self-funded campaign. Training time, coaching, equipment—none of it comes cheap, in any sport. That's why all Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls share a strange and beautiful combination of talent, determination, and drive, a fire in the belly that justifies all the sacrifices in time, money, and career required by the singlemindedness of an Olympic campaign.
Obviously we here at Boats.com think that Sailing is a worthy part of the Olympics; otherwise we wouldn't have covered it so extensively for the past few weeks. Wired Magazine agrees; a few weeks ago they published an article I wrote called Olympic Sailors More than Earn the Label 'Athletes.' Watching Anna Tunnicliffe sail a Laser nude in ESPN's Body Issue also reinforces the idea of sailors as athletic. As one reporter put it, "She's more ripped than Michael Phelps!"
There are plenty of wealthy people who enjoy the sport of sailing, which offers something for every age, ability, and income. There are also plenty of others (many of whom have commented on the New York Times website) who sail out of community boating centers and invest very little time or money in the sport—but enjoy it just as much. It's only at the elite level that sailing requires such a large investment in time and equipment.
Any Olympic or Paralympic hopeful will have to somehow find the funding to buy the equipment, training time, and knowledge necessary to make it to Rio and future Olympics. And that holds true no matter what Olympic sport lights a fire in your belly.
Agree, disagree? Let us know in the comments below.
For more, read Gael Pawson's blog posts from the 2012 Olympic Sailing venue.