With 400 athletes competing in 272 boats in 11 events across five race course areas, running the racing at the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition is a highly skilled operation.
Of the team of International Technical Officers (ITO) at the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center, the ISAF Olympic Race Management Team is tasked with running the races on Fushan Bay. Back in November 2005, ISAF International Race Officers (IROs) were invited to apply for a position in the ITO pool from which the Race Management Team was selected. Over the past two years, the Olympic Test Events in 2006 and 2007 have given the Race Management Team the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the conditions and challenges of Fushan Bay and to work with the National Technical Officers.
Charley COOK (USA) is the chair of the team, with John PARRISH (NZL) as Vice-Chair. In total 26 IROs form the Race Management Team, representing 18 different nations from Asia, Europe, Ocean and North and South America. The Race Management team for this Games includes many well known names from around the world and by working with the National Technical Officers in China they help to leave a valuable legacy of the skills and experience required to run races at this level.
One of the most recognisable faces amongst the Race Management Team is Peter REGGIO (USA), Race Officer for the Finn and Ynglings and better known as 'Luigi'. REGGIO is a professional Race Officer, with one of the most impressive CVs in all of sailing. As well as years of experience in fleet racing regattas, he was also the Principal Race Officer for the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia.
As Race Officer for the Finn fleet, REGGIO was faced with the very tough task of trying to run the first ever Olympic Medal Race on Saturday in very light winds. The 10-boat fleet went into abandoned starting sequences three times before eventually getting underway late in the afternoon. However, with almost every boat around the mark of the second leg the wind died and the Race Committee hoisted the white and blue chequered flag to signal the race was abandoned.
Robert DEAVES from the Finn class caught up with REGGIO to find out more about his experiences at the Games. He began by asking his general thoughts on the Finn racing in Qingdao: "The conditions at the beginning of the Olympics for races 1-6 for the Finns were far better than expected," said REGGIO. "Over the past three or four days they have reverted back to what we experienced in the 2006 and 2007 test events. It's not easy to run races correctly in light air with a strong tide. The 'normal' inversion has reappeared making things really tough on the organisers and the sailors with very light, shifty winds with heat and humidity beyond endurance. But we are getting it done though,"
Did he feel prepared enough to face all the different situations? "This has not been easy. Probably the biggest issue is the language thing. I worked with this team last year at the 2007 test event, though the 2006 team was different. They understand the how's of what we are trying to do but they really don't have a feel for the why's. That makes it extremely difficult at times when things get a bit complicated, believe me! The team is a wonderful bunch of people and really eager to do things correctly...it would just be a lot easier for me if I understood what they were saying! The other IROs that I've been working with have also been doing a wonderful job. "
"We usually get to the race area about one and a half hours before the scheduled start time to get settled in and start looking at the conditions. All we are concerned with is getting things right to make the racing as fair as possible for the sailors. I'd say the real objective is that...fairness (and then MORE fairness). "
Was it hard to cancel the Finn Medal Race on Saturday and what reactions did he get from the sailors? "Not at all. We'd attempted two prior starts and blown them off with about 10 seconds to go each time. It just wasn't going to work. The third attempt at racing was in about 7 knots and it looked good for about three-quarters of the first beat. Then it all started to go downhill. It was a long beat time wise due to a strong current running with the wind. Then the breeze started failing and it had died completely by the time a few of the boats had reached the gate. After that, it was a joke with no shot at making the one hour time limit, even though we had shortened the second beat. The call to abandon was a no-brainer."
The best moment of this regatta? "Just knowing that the guys in the Finns and the girls in the Ynglings actually appreciate what we are trying to do. Their feedback so far has been great and it's really satisfying to know that they understand that we're all [sailors and Race Committee] working together to get the best competition possible. That's a very special feeling and I'm truly grateful for some of the things that the sailors and coaches have said to me... that is special. "
Having faced some good challenges between the America's Cup and the sailing in Qingdao, what's next for Luigi? "I'm leaving here early to run an M30 event in Newport Rhode Isaland and then I'm off to Travemunde, Germany next Sunday night for the Farr 40 Europeans. I've got a couple of Coutts 44 events later in the fall and the M30 Worlds in October. There are about six other events in September-December but I'm to beat right now to remember what they are. Next year is my usual mess of travel to various events (too many). I love what I do, but I've grown to hate airports."
And of the Finn sailors, "They have been great. We have a lot of chatter and laughs before racing and between races. I love working with these guys. They are the best!"