A new era in sailing
By Susan Holmberg
Launched last year, the M32 Cup features fast racing catamarans sailing in the heart of coastal cities, where viewers can get a real sense of the action. Swedish Press spoke to veteran Olympic sailors Fredrik (“Freddy”) Lööf and Hans Wallén, who have recently returned from a successful M32 regatta in Miami and are looking forward to the 2014 series in Gothenburg, Olso, Copenhagen, Malmö and Stockholm.
Fredrik (”Freddy”) Lööf first sailed with the Swedish Olympic team in Barcelona in 1992. He has participated in every subsequent summer Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 2000 in Finn class, bronze medal 2008 in Star class and capping his achievements with a gold medal in the Star class in London in 2012. When he isn’t sailing, he runs a resort near Lillehammer, Norway (Spåtind Sport Hotel) with his fiancé Maj Elin Storeide.
How did you get into sailing?
I was introduced by my father when I was very young, three years old. He built an Optimist, which is like a little square box, which we used for quite a few years on Lake Vänern. Gradually the boats got bigger and I started my Olympic career when I was 17.
How did you rise to the Olympic level?
In Sweden there is good support, with regional and national clubs. If you are doing well, you get onto the national team, and I was on the national team from 1989 to 2012.
It must have been incredible to have been in London and win a gold medal?
Yes, it was a long journey and it felt nice to finally top it off with a gold medal two years ago.
Could you tell our readers how you got involved in the M32 Cup?
I grew up sailing with Håkan Svensson, who has been sponsoring me for quite a while. I introduced him to the M32 boat – I told him it was really fast, really cool and a really great boat. A couple of weeks later he bought a boat and that was the start of everything. He had this big picture, big ideas, and it’s great. Last year we had five races and it’s more or less the same schedule this year.
Who designed the boat?
It was designed by Göran Marström, a Swedish catamaran sailor.
You mentioned that the M32 Cup is representative of a new era in sailing. What are some of the signs?
The sport is becoming more like Formula 1 sport, with much more action, higher speed and a good show. With the M32 boats, the public can be much closer to the racing, so it’s easier to connect with the racers. It’s like a small format of the America’s Cup, but more “touchable” in a way.
Which race has been your favorite?
I enjoyed last year in Stockholm, because we were sailing in the middle of town, there were a lot of people and we won the regatta so that was good!
This is a Swedish concept – what is the Swedish edge?
The event is the edge, because it is simple, it’s commercialized and it’s a good platform for great racing. We are Vikings, you know, so I think we might be good sailors. If you compare us with people from the Mediterranean for example, we are generally better in stronger winds, we can sail in light winds as well. The coastline in Sweden I believe has an impact – there is a lot of water here – sailing is a unique and great sport.
Do you think the M32 Cup is good for recruiting young people into the sport?
Yes, because the boat is so simple, you are able to race pretty quickly, which appeals to younger people. In Sweden and Scandinavia a lot of people are talking about the M32 – it’s a cool boat with colorful sails and it goes fast and you can wipe out, and there’s a lot of action!
Do you see fast catamarans as the future of sailing in Sweden?
Yes, I think this IS the future. Things changed with the America’s Cup, and catamaran sailing is really the future, very exciting.
You have just returned from an M32 race in Miami, where Hans Wallén took top position. Are you ok about being “beaten” by an “old man”?
(laughs) Hans is a good sailor and I think it’s cool that he won the last regatta because, you know, everyone who does this loves the game and everybody wants to become a better sailor, so that’s the challenge!
Hans Wallén began his Olympic career at the age of 20 and sailed for Sweden in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, winning silver in the Star class at the 1996 games in Atlanta. He served as a coach for the US team in Beijing in 2008 and continues to compete around the world. He lives in Askim, just outside of Gothenburg.
How did you first get into sailing?
I started sailing when I was 5 years old. We had a summer place in southern Sweden, near Helsingborg, and we went to sailing school there. So it was there that everything started.
You were quite young when you started with Olympic sailing in the 1980s. How did that come about?
I started with the Olympics when I was 20. At that time it was broader, there were four qualifiers with 30 to 50 boats per qualifier at the national level and it was a matter of being the best in Sweden in order to get into the Olympics. Today unfortunately it’s not as broad, there are a lot of international qualifiers with one or two boats per country, so today it is a fairly small circle, for good and bad.
Why was it broader then?
It’s because nowadays we sail all year long, and the qualifiers are outside the country. The Swedish Olympic Committee changed the criteria so that you have to be in the top eight to compete.
You are currently involved in the recently launched M32 Cup, which features catamarans sailing in cities. What are some of the distinctive features of an M32 race?
The M32 is more like a car race than, say, match racing, which also sails close to land but with only twoboats on longer runs. An M32 race has 4-10 boats sailing at once. The boats are five times faster and the runs are much shorter, about 15 or 20 minutes each, so the races are very tight and there is a lot of action,which makes it more fun to watch.
You recently returned from an M32 race in Miami. Have cities been responding well to the concept?
Yes, I think so. There are several advantages to this type of competition. First of all, there is no sound, like in car racing, so it doesn’t disturb the surroundings. Also, it’s non-polluting, which is positive, and the boats are really spectacular. It’s been a huge success in Scandinavia and generated a lot of interest internationally – the interest is enormous. In fact seven boats are being built right now – all Swedish design and construction Marstrom M-32s.
And the buzz has been very positive in social media?
Yes. We haven’t been in operation very long, but we have had a very positive reception and great deal of attention on social media, sailing blogs and forums.
Races are financed by sponsors. What are some of the advantages of being an M32 Cup sponsor?
In addition to brand exposure from ads placed on the boat and sails, sponsors and partners receive a seat onboard during a race. Sailing is one of the few sports where a sponsor can actually be onboard in the actual race, almost no other sport can offer this. It’s very exclusive and unique. Also, these are very good conditions for a company that wants to promote their brand out in nature, on the sea, in pure surroundings.
What is the next phase of the M32 Cup?
The Scandinavian cup is a pilot project, so this is the testing ground. The idea is that it will become global and there will be a Gold Cup that is the grande finale in the winter in Miami or somewhere similar.