Sailing leapt into the entertainment age at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 with the introduction of the 49er skiff. Modelled on the 18 foot skiffs of Sydney Harbor, the 49er was an open skiff at that time and could be sailed by both men and women. It ultimately became male dominated due to the overpowered nature of the sailing.
To keep relevant, the 49er has always progressed, continuously improving the boats with additions like carbon masts and square top mainsails along with ever tightening tolerances. However, no leap forward can be as significant as the addition of the 49erFX as an Olympic Event for women.
On the eve of the first ever 49erFX medal race, what this progression has delivered is obvious. The gender equal event now features the best men and women skiff sailors on the planet, and it is the women delivering the drama. 4 teams are all tied heading into the final race, where all the medals will be decided head to head. It is sure to be a compelling 20 minutes of racing!
It has been a long journey. The Class has always had ambitions to include women. Under the 8-year leadership of now Honorary President Malav Shroff and the current President Marcus Spillane, the Class has delivered on multiple fronts: true gender equity, event broadcasts showcasing the sport, a professional management structure, and increasing sponsor and fan engagement. The whole culture of the 49er Class was built to allow for all of this and the Class continues to innovate and push the envelope.
Thursday marks the first ever medal race of the 49erFX, providing a nice bookend to the goals that Malav and Marcus set out in 2005, but the job has not finished. Gender equity and proper professional events have been achieved but the work continues. Delivering on the fairest sailing, growing fleets and world beating live broadcasts of our major events will continue to be the focus.
But before getting back to work, sit back and enjoy the emotion, drama, smiles and heartache of the 49er and 49erFX medal races. It really makes all of the hard work worthwhile.