By Ori Lewis
WEYMOUTH, England (Reuters) - If kitesurfing replaces windsurfing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, most of the competitors currently on surfboards will also dominate the new discipline, the women's gold medallist said on Tuesday.
"If they include kitesurfing, it will be the same people who will be competing, as in the world there are no more than 20 people (at the top level) ... I think wind surfing will come back for 2020," said Spain's Marina Alabau.
In May, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) announced men's and women's kiteboarding would replace the RS:X sail board at the 2016 Games but a vote in November may yet see the decision reversed.
The ISAF is also facing a legal challenge by windsurfing chiefs to the vote that could force an about-turn.
In windsurfing, competitors skim across the surface on a surfboard and hold onto a connected sail, whilst in kiteboarding, they stand on a much smaller board and are propelled by a kite which can lift them up in the air.
Many of the competitors at the wind surfing regatta on England's south coast said they wanted their discipline to remain, and that kitesurfing was more a "fun" sport which had not yet matured for serious competition.
"I think that kitesurfing is a fantastic sport, but not (for) racing ... it's a new sport that is still not developed," Alabau added.
"There isn't even (a uniform) design and I think that windsurfing is the best sailing sport, it's really exciting ... and there are a lot of countries that don't want the kites."
But she said that if kitesurfing was adopted, she would switch, as she and many others had gained experience in it.
After news of the decision broke, Israel's sailing chief Yehuda Maayan told Reuters that the ISAF decision to prefer kite boarding came about as a result of a voting error by the Spanish delegate at the ISAF conference.
The Spanish Sailing Federation subsequently admitted its mistake, saying its representative had wrongly voted in favour of kiteboarding.
"They said they made a mistake, but now they are going to realise that it was more than a mistake," said Alabau, Spain's only gold medallist at the Games so far.
France's Julien Bontemps, silver medal winner in the men's RS:X gold medal at the last Olympics in Beijing who finished fifth overall in Weymouth, added his voice to the chorus of windsurfers opposed to the switch.
"France is against the change. Does France want me to go to Rio on the windsurfing board? Yes for sure. In Rio there is no wind. If there is no wind there is no kites," he said.
GIVE IT A TRY
Dutchman Dorian van Rijsselberge, who won the gold medal in the men's competition, said had no strong feelings on which board he would prefer to use at the Rio Games.
"Everyone is enjoying themselves (windsurfing). I probably will go to California to try to get the hang of (kiteboarding). Why not?" he said.
But disappointed British windsurfer Bryony Shaw, who finished seventh overall, said the ISAF decision had been a "huge blow to the windsurfing community".
"We are one of the more spectacular (sailing) classes to watch ... and I don't think you are going to get the same visual image from kiting. It would be a huge loss if windsurfing doesn't stay in the Games," she said.
(Editing by Michael Holden)