Extreme Sailing is one of the few sports in the world where women compete alongside men. Just to give you an idea of what the Extreme 40 boat is and the idea behind it, the creators of the Extreme 40 took the biggest, fastest sailing boat in the Olympics — then made it twice as big and even faster. And no, brakes do not come as standard…there is a reason it is called Extreme! Watching, let alone being on one of these boats, is incredible: often the hull “flys” and the crew have to lean over the sides just to keep the boat from tipping over!
Given all of this it is even more interesting and exciting that there were two women in the series this year. I got to spend time with both of them and sail (I use this term very loosely!) with one of them. They are masters in their own fields: Anna Tunnicliffe is a 2-times ISAF World Sailor of the Year, an Olympic gold medallist (Beijing 2008) and has represented the USA at two Olympic Games. Sarah Ayton is a double Olympic gold medallist (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008) and Yngling World Champion in 2008 and 2007.
Speaking to both team captains, their view of ‘women’ in sailing Extreme 40 is exactly the same. It is so refreshing, not just hearing what they say, but also how they talk about the women on their team. Leigh McMillan of Wave Muscat and Morgan Larson of Alinghi talk about them as being a part of the team, about the value they add, about how well they are respected as world class sailors and not only as women. This is about recognising talent and respecting their achievements - and for me this is a real stand-out thing: for women to be regarded for their skill, with gender not being an issue.
Morgan Larson said something that I would love to hear in every sport that women compete in: “...we don’t think we are sailing with a girl, we feel like we are sailing with an amazing athlete.” What an incredible thing to hear from one of the best sailors in the world. Morgan is a veteran of four America’s Cups, so this isn’t about credit for the sake of credit, no plaudits. He went on to say that Anna is an asset to the team, echoing the words of Leigh McMillan who commented about Sarah that “...she is an asset to the team and any other team would love to have her. Just look at her track record, it speaks for itself.” It’s hard not to get excited hearing these kinds of comments from men - and that from men who are regarded as the best in their field.
What a fantastic example of mixed sport and of women being recognised as athletes, not as ‘women who are athletes’ - and let’s hope that in time to come more and more sports will have fans talking about the sport and the skill of the athletes, regardless of gender.