Kiteboarding takes wind out of surfers' sails

MELBOURNE Mon May 7, 2012 6:31am EDT

A man kite surfs in the Mediterranean sea in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon April 26, 2011. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A man kite surfs in the Mediterranean sea in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon April 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The surprise decision to chop windsurfing from the Olympic program has prompted jeers from leading athletes, but is being hailed by kiteboarders whose discipline will be showcased for the first time at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) announced the decision to include men's and women's kiteboarding at the expense of windsurfing over the weekend, describing it as a "fantastic addition" for the 2016 Games.

"Obviously we've got quite a few young sailors in particular who have been campaigning and building a campaign particularly with 2016 in mind and I guess we've been investing via national windsurfing programs," Peter Conde, Yachting Australia's high performance director, told Reuters on Monday.

"Clearly those sailors are pretty devastated. At least at first (glance) it looks like their dreams have been dashed by this decision.

"I guess it remains to be seen as to whether many of those athletes might want to take a fresh look and embrace kiteboarding as a new discipline. I guess we'd be encouraging them to look at it."

Windsurfing federations have vowed to pressure sailing's global governing body ISAF to re-instate the sport, with Britain's Bryony Shaw, Olympic bronze medalist at Beijing's Games, supporting an online petition.

Britain's Nick Dempsey, who came fourth at Beijing, said on his Facebook account: "That was a big decision and a very sad day for windsurfing.

"My heart goes out to all the aspiring champions and kids with dreams of windsurfing at the Olympics."

HUGE BLOW

Ben Finkelstein, coach of women's world champion Lee Korzits, voiced concerns to Reuters in a telephone interview about the cost implications of the switch.

"Professional surfers who decide to make the change will be able to use their skills to adapt but I am much more worried about all the clubs and the less expert, young surfers.

"It is a completely different discipline and if we want to nurture competitors in the new discipline it will mean changing the equipment and that will require a huge outlay."

British sailing performance director Luke Derbyshire expressed surprise at the timing of the decision.

"The decision to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding will of course be a huge blow to the windsurfing community, and we're disappointed for all those who are working at the coal face of the RYA's windsurfing programs to deliver activity and British success on the world stage who will be affected most by this decision," he told local media.

"Kiteboarding made a solid case for its Olympic inclusion at the March trials and although a surprise that ISAF has voted it into the Olympic program at this stage, it appears that the Council of ISAF wished to seize the opportunity, rather than wait until 2020," he said.

Yachting New Zealand chief executive Dave Abercrombie suggested there was little hope of the decision being reversed, given past experience.

"If you go to the last ISAF evaluation process when the Elliott 6 (meter) was removed and more recently the Star was removed, both of those organizations jumped up and down but nothing changed, so my gut feeling is it will probably stay as it is," he told local media, referring to the now-defunct sailing categories.

"We have no (kiteboard) racing, as such, in this country, and if we're going to get up to speed at Olympic level, we're going to have to find athletes, evaluate their ability, and get them racing offshore in competitive fleets."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Ossian Shine/Patrick Johnston)

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