Nature wins on second day of Finn Gold Cup as discussions on future of Finn continues

Racing was cancelled on the second day of the 2021 Finn Gold Cup in Porto, Portugal, with huge waves battering the harbour entrance in the afternoon, following a complete lack of wind in the morning, following overnight storms.

While the start time had been brought forward, at 10.30am, the huge ocean swell was breaking over the top of the breakwater, and it was still raining hard with no wind on the course area.

Local authorities had imposed a 14.00 deadline to be back ashore because of concern the strong ebb tide would cause conditions at the entrance to deteriorate further, so at 11.30, with still no wind at sea the decision was taken to abandon for the day.

On shore, the discussion continued over the future of the Finn.

Here are three more different and personal perspectives on the current challenges facing the class, the sailors and World Sailing, as the Finn argues its case again for its continuance at the Olympic Games as the only option for male sailors over 85 kg.

It is worth reading these individual stories to get the perspective from their side, all potentially facing the end of their Olympic careers.

Facundo Olezza, from Argentina, is 12th overall after three races. He won two races at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and is one of the most exciting talents that has come out of the Finn class in recent years. However, he feels completely let down and ignored.

“To be brutally honest, the last couple of years have been really tough for me psychologically. It’s an everyday struggle because I don’t like the way we are being treated as human beings. I don’t feel that World Sailing care for us. There was not even one single statement for the Finn sailors, from its president or from the Athletes Commission. No one cared to give us the opportunity to keep doing the sport we love.

“When I was a kid growing up in Argentina, I never thought about becoming someone that people look up to and now I see that I inspire a lot of the young generation in Argentina because they follow me on my social media. So, I have a responsibility to encourage them the values of the Olympics, to encourage them to excellence and I do I this through the opportunity that my sport gave me; that the Finn gave me. As I have this responsibility to the younger generations, I also feel that World Sailing has a responsibility of giving us the opportunity to compete and to race in a clear, and peaceful environment.

“Instead, I felt in the last couple of years that I was left aside by World Sailing. I felt like they didn’t care, like I didn’t matter to them. I felt like my all my effort and all my rights were taken from me and that’s the thing that makes me most sad about the situation we are going through.”

Olezza is well aware that the current process to select events for Paris 2024 could exclude all 85+ kg male sailors from Olympic level sailing. He and many others will have no other class to sail, even though Olympic sailing has 10 events from the IOC to resolve this.

“This Olympics should be a celebration of the fight we are putting against COVID and it certainly is, but in other ways I look at it with sadness as I know that after the Olympics, if the Finn is out, it will be extremely hard for me to compete in another class, and for me to lose 15-18 kg to be competitive for a Laser campaign will not only be challenging psychologically, but it will also not be healthy for me so I am honestly a little bit lost and this Olympics is certainly feeling a little bit bitter, besides the passion I feel for going there. For me, the message that World Sailing is sending is that ‘there is not room for you in this sport’ and like Bruno de Wannamaker once told me at the World Sailing Conference that I attended in 2018, I should go play basketball. This is the message I am getting.

“Personally it is not only the sport I love, it’s also the opportunity that the Finn has given me in life. I come from an honest, working family background in Argentina. We were never very rich, always struggling, and when I arrived in Valencia in the Finn at the Dinghy Academy, the only training facility recognised by World Sailing, it gave me hope, it gave me a perspective of life, an opportunity to give meaning to my life, something
important for myself. And that was the Olympics.”

Anders Pedersen has been in the class for nearly 10 years. U23 World Champion in 2014, he later qualified for the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

With no boat for heavy men at the Olympics, “It means that I have no Olympic class to go to when I am supposed to be at the prime of my career going into my 30s. I am hopefully ready to pick up some medals, but I may have no Olympic class to turn to. The chance of me dropping down to 80 kg is very small.

“Right now I think they are kicking out the most beautiful racing boat we have in the Olympics. It is really hard competition, and the level has never been higher with so much talent at the moment. We lost many of them when they kicked us out the first time and I think we can keep a lot of potential names in sailing by maintaining the Finn as an Olympic class. In my opinion it is the class with the highest level at the Games.

“Finn sailing covers pretty much every aspect of our sport. You get the gear development, physiques, and the Olympic criteria of higher, faster, stronger are all in there and right now I think the level of the competition is so high that to kick this boat out is sad and leave the guys who are too big for the Laser with no options.

“Of course it’s a beautiful and amazing boat to sail, and to race in the fleet we have now is the best thing you can do.”

Jake Lilley, from Australia is in a similar situation. Aged 27 and standing over 2 metres tall, his Olympic career may be over.

“I am really disappointed and sad for the sport in the direction it is heading. This class obviously has created all these legends over many decades. That is all lost. For me on a personal level my Olympic sailing career is done at 27. Like what can you do? There is nothing else for us to sail. So that’s it. And that’s bitterly disappointing.”

Lying in tenth overall, he has made huge gains in performance since Rio 2016 but knows that Tokyo 2020 will be his last if all options for male sailors over 85 kg are excluded. What would he say to those who have to take some big decisions next week?

“I’d ask them to think bigger and think about the sport in general and catering for everyone. As soon as you start being selective and discriminating against people, I think the sport is at a loss and heading in the wrong direction.

“In terms of the impact of all this in Australia, we had five really talented young sailors just disappear and that’s only what we see at the top level. There are many people dropping out, as they have nothing to aspire to. They are too big for anything else, so we have this aging population in the sport, and considering the size of the general populous and the way things are going it’s just pretty empty.

“I think in Australia it’s a no brainer to support the Finn. The Finn fleet is bigger than any other single class and yet we seem to be against it and looking to push other avenues. I think there’s just got to be more big picture focus on what’s good for the sport and what’s good for our youth. The direction the sport is going with foiling is great, but you just can’t ignore the heart of the sport.”

Racing at the Finn Gold Cup in Porto is expected to continue Monday, assuming conditions outside the harbour have moderated.

A full gallery from Saturday’s racing can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/finnclassphotos/albums/72157719180042505

Robert Deaves

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