Olympic Ice Yachting?

In a few days’ time, the names Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen could well be global household names. Such is their rivalry in the men’s figure-skating, it’s the story that is lighting up the Beijing Winter Olympics. The American, Chen, is known as the ‘Quad King’ – the only man alive capable of pulling off the perfect quadruple axel in competition, when it matters, at the pressure point and doing it with a grace that is breathless in its execution.

©Getty Images

Hanyu is nicknamed the G.O.A.T (Greatest of all Time) by none other than Chen himself and is now shorn of the injuries that have dogged his past two seasons. He’s the Elvstrom or Ainslie of figure skating. He moved the dial. Changed the pace. Competed at a level that few could match and raised the bar for everyone. Fascinating duel that will go to the wire and pit America’s once-in-a generation talent against possibly the finest Japanese athlete ever.

But you may well care not a jot for figure skating. Men dancing on ice? No, not for me. So you dial into the ice hockey for the rough and tumble, the fights and the almost geo-political rivalries and jingoism beneath booming, grating muzak and unfollowable speed of action. The United States stole the Gold at the death against Canada in a shootout at PyeongChang in 2018 and that victory stung like a swarm. The Canadians want revenge and will whizz through the tournament to meet their nemesis, discarding all-comers and also-rans along the way. It will be electric and deafening with the tiniest spark causing the mightiest on-the-ice fire.

©Matt Roberts / Getty Images

Perhaps moguls are your thing? Well if so, look no further than the women’s discipline to see the greatest free-riders ever to grace the slopes and batter their knees to submission. The city of Zhangjiakou will be the venue where the French athlete and reigning Olympic champion Perrine Laffont will take on the fast-charging, perennial favourites, the Canadian sisters of Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe where a cigarette paper’s width separates them. To see the way these women attack the mountain in a blaze of piston-like expressionism is to witness genius on display and a thoroughly mis-spent youth on the slopes. They ski’d long before they could walk and retirement beckons in their late 20’s at best. Brutal sport. Electrifying to watch.

Every time a Winter Olympics comes around, I can’t help myself but dig out the old World Sailing video of David ‘Sid’ Howlett, Ben Ainslie’s uber-trainer, and join him full square in his passion for ice yachting and I’m still left thinking that it would be a superb discipline, even as a demonstration event, at a Games.

©Karol Jablonski

But the history is storied and long. The ice boaters actually clapped in a standing ovation in Vienna in 2006 when the the final decision not to pursue the ubiquitous DN as a class was confirmed. A ten year examination of the discipline yielded the view that these home-made, hobbyist boats would be ruined by the five-ring circus alongside huge concerns around running events in anything but the optimum weather conditions. Let’s face it, if it was in for Beijing, they would probably have to run it on man made ice – even the downhill skiing is being run on synthetic snow so what chance of a frozen lake with moderate breeze in China at this time of the year?

©Gretchen Dorian

We marvel at the AC75’s and SailGP F50’s and positively salivate at the thought of the AC40 circuit. Speed is addictive, it’s the modern way as sailing has just got faster and faster, but at the DN Ice Boating edge of the game, they’re doing 35 knots in 5 knots of breeze. Top speeds are way in excess of what we’ve seen so far in the aqua foilers.

©Gwidon Libera

Have a crash or worse still, a coming together on the ice and they don’t send a friendly support team member to help, they call the hospital and the paramedics arrive. It’s a brutal but beautiful sport and highly, highly technical – perhaps almost too technical for the Olympic Games although I could argue and make a compelling case that the skeleton bobsleigh and the fully-crewed bob are right up there too.

It won’t happen but it’s a nice thought and I have to say, I’d watch it if it was in the Olympics. But give yourself a treat today and watch this sport. It’s absolutely mind-bogglingly brilliant…and add it to the ever-growing, endless list of ‘boat wants’ and lottery purchases when those numbers finally come in (as they surely must).

What a sport. Enjoy:

7 thoughts on “Olympic Ice Yachting?

  1. I’ve been sailing (soft water) Lasers since my college days in the ’80s, and remember living in South Florida in the early 90s when Lasers had just been made an Olympic class. It nearly destroyed recreational and amateur sailing. Even smaller local regattas became filled – and frequently dominated – by full time professional sailors on their campaigns…with sponsors, top of the line equipment (vans, campers, RIBs), physical trainers and coaches. A few came from overseas even. Boats because more expensive. There were more protests because the stakes were high for those on campaigns. We lost the bottom of the fleet, leaving only those with a big does of natural talent to duke it out with the pros. It became…not fun for those not near the very top of the amateur fleet. And for myself, with quite a few trophies from those days…we put our Lasers in storage until well after the ’96 Olympics and went to the Lightning class, where there are pros, no doubt, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Be careful what you wish for is the phrase that comes to mind. Those who clapped in Vienna had the right idea. Let’s keep DNs an true amateur sport.

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    1. Yes completely agree. Olympic status ushers in the pros and things change. The DN’s are a glorious class without the Olympic status so probably made the best decision. Superb to see these boats in action…


  2. Yes, and we DN sailors still carry „white sails“ – which in itself is a statement.
    @ Pete: the scouts are out already. And one of the best things will be the „Masters“ mid next week. No crazy running but just one leg on the plank during the start.
    @ Magnus: thanks for the great report and the YT links. Well appreciated within the international iceboat community.

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