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470 Trials Winners Shocked At Olympics Nominations

4 June 2004

From Melinda Henshaw

Skipper Women’s 470, Olympic Trials winners.

I was shocked to learn of the Selector’s decision to exclude us from the Olympic Nominations, upon my return to New Zealand on Wednesday.

During August last year, whilst I was living in the United Kingdom, Jan Shearer and I decided to contest the Olympic Trial which was traditionally a ‘first-past-the-post” event, held at the end of the season prior to the Olympics.

During September we learned that to enter, we had to sign various contract documents with Yachting New Zealand and NZOC. These documents were available from the YNZ web site and were accompanied by a 26-page legal document, being the YNZ Regulations, governing the Trial and Nomination procedure. After months of litigation and discussion in yachting circles it is fair to say that I, and most other competitors, still do not fully understand the provisions of this appalling document. The NZOC website provided a relatively easy to understand Summary of the Regulations, which said that the Selectors must firstly consider the winner’s performance at the Trial in assessing their ability to achieve the required performance criteria, a top-10 finish at Athens.

After winning the Trials, which were held earlier than usual in mid-January, we quickly learned that to receive a Nomination, the Regulations, which were published during September, required us to have competed at some of a schedule of overseas regattas, all but one of which, were held prior to the date the Regulations were published. In addition to the overseas regattas, the Schedule named two New Zealand regattas which were to be held after the date of the Trials. The Selectors, however, made their nomination decisions prior to these regattas, advising us that we did not qualify for nomination because we had not sailed at any of the scheduled regattas. Contrary to what continued to be stated on the NZOC web site, our performance at the Trial was not permitted to be considered in assessing our ability to fulfil the NZOC Criteria.

At the time we signed the contracts with YNZ and NZOC in September, the Regulations provided that only the Trials winners could be considered for Nomination. However, during November, two months after the contracts were signed, just two months before the Trials, the Regulations (which should have been in place at lease two years before the Olympics) changed again, to allow the Selectors to nominate the crews who lost the Trail, if they were of the opinion that the Trial winners, after competing at the 2004 World Championships and other regattas, did not meet the Criteria.

It was in regard to the retrospectively applied conditions and the other appalling irregularities that we appealed our non-nomination earlier this year. We do not intend to appeal the latest decision as we respect the Selectors right to make a decision within the terms of the Regulations. We do not, and never will, accept the decision they have made.

Jan is a 470 Class - Silver Medallist, and at the time of the last Olympics I was one of just 14 athletes in New Zealand who were ranked in the top-10 in the world in their sport. Whilst we started our preparation later than YNZ officials may have preferred, we believed, and continue to believe, that, with our sailing ability and experience in this Class, we would have been in medal contention by the time of the Athens Olympics.

During April and May we competed in two European regattas. In spite of being somewhat rusty in some areas, we achieved a number of top-10 race results, and by the time we started in our Class World Championship regatta in Croatia, we were sailing among the top boats in the fleet. Of the first five races we finished in 7th, 5th, 24th, 3rd, and 5th. Tragically, the first and last of these results were disallowed, the first because we had been over the start-line at some point prior to (but not at the time of) the start. The other because of a very dubious protest lodged by an American crew who claimed, without a witness, that we had tacked in their water approaching the top mark. This decision, which effectively knocked us out of the regatta, should not have gone against us.

What is undeniable is that we sailed four races out of five at a World Championship, crossing the finish-line, between 3rd and 7th place - prior to the two results being disallowed. At the following regatta held in the Netherlands, last week, after 13 races, we finished two points behind a Russian skipper who is ranked 2nd in the World.

In the face of these performances and the knowledge that we would further improve in the final lead-up to Athens, combined with the obvious advantages we would have from our past Olympic experience, the Selectors have formed the decision that we are incapable of finishing in the top half of the twenty-boat fleet at Athens.

New Zealand Yachting has a proud history of success, developed during a period when its administrative body was a fraction of its current size, and the number of sailors significantly greater than at present. Yachting’s Olympic Committee was made up of highly accomplished and respected people, who were appointed by the sailors through their Class Associations. There was no confusion as to who the ‘important people’ were in the sport, and the administrators’ sole objective was to support the sailors.

The Trials were a clean, enjoyable and decisive event. If a few tears were shed by some, hands were shaken and drinks shared by all when the results were known. In those times, our administrators would have pointed out to the NZOC that the Olympic qualifying standard is very high and the performance Criteria objective is assured by the Olympic qualification process. They would also have explained, that the concept of being able to predict which of the qualifiers will finish in the top half of the fleet is a nonsense! It is the equivalent of suggesting someone could reliably predict which horses would finish in the top half of the field at the Melbourne Cup - such is the nature of yachting.

Under the current regime (which, to my knowledge, does not include anyone who has skippered a boat at an Olympic Games), and their 26-page Regulations, we have seen a record low number of sailors competing in the Trials, and a record few classes qualified for Athens. Instead of hand-shakes and shared drinks, many past friend have become bitter enemies.

Jan and I entered the Trials because we love the sport, enjoy competing and enjoy the camaraderie. The experience of the past four months has however, been far from enjoyable.

I wish Shelley and Linda well and do not hold them responsible in any way for the Selectors decision. As to the Selectors, their Regulations did not allow them to consider whether or not the second placed crew at the Trials was able to fulfil the NZOC criteria, unless they had first decided that the Trials winners could not. This means that if there had not been a second placed crew available for nomination, they would have been obliged to not nominate anyone. They were not entitled to simply choose the crew who they decided had achieved the best results or offered the best prospects.

Whether the process had this degree of integrity is a matter the Selectors must consider - and live with!

In the mean time, we will get on with our lives, but a lot of damage has been done to our sport.

Finally, I wish to thank the large number of senior members of the Yachting community who have been so generous with their support, both morally and financially, throughout these past few months.


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