'The new equipment is more powerful. Asian people will suffer as they are physically not as big as Europeans' A decision to use new sailing equipment at the 2008 Beijing Olympics could signal the end of an illustrious career for Hong Kong's golden girl Lee Lai-shan. The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) decided on Friday to replace the ageing Mistral One-design board with the new Neil Pryde RS-X board at the next Olympic Games. The Mistral, which favours lightweight athletes had been used since the 1996 Games in Atlanta - the year San San won a gold medal. San San had indicated earlier that a decision on her retirement could partly depend on whether sailing authorities would replace the Mistral for the Beijing Games. She was unavailable for comment yesterday. But her husband, Sam Wong Tak-sum, said tests would have to be done on the new board before any decision was taken. 'It is up to her whether she carries on or not. But we will wait until the new equipment is available so that we can do some tests. We have heard the new board will favour bigger athletes, but maybe the sail design might help lightweight athletes,' said Wong yesterday. San San turned 34 on September 5. She will be 37 when the Beijing Olympics open on August 8, 2008. The debate is on whether San San, who has taken part in four Olympic Games, should continue, or if she should step aside and allow her younger colleagues, sisters Chan Wai-kei and Chan Wai-man, carry the flag. Countries can only field one competitor in windsurfing at the Olympics. According to Neil Pryde, the owner of the sail design and manufacturing company, the new board would favour European athletes. The Hong Kong-based sailor and former Olympian (he represented Hong Kong in yachting at the 1968 Games), said smaller Asians could be at a disadvantage. 'The new equipment is more powerful. Asian people will suffer as they are physically not as big as Europeans. Stronger-built athletes will have an advantage,' Pryde conceded yesterday. Pryde estimated that his board would generate speeds of 15-20 knots in winds of similar strength. Made of carbon fibre, the new board is much lighter and stronger than the old Mistral. It was recommended by the ISAF windsurfing equipment panel and also endorsed by the women's sailing and executive committees. SAR head coach Rene Appel, who was at the ISAF annual conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, when the vote was taken in favour of change (26 to 12), was characteristically cautious and said it was too early to tell what the change could mean for Hong Kong. 'We won't know until we have sailed with the new equipment. I know that the sail size will be bigger than we are used to and this would imply that the optimum physique could shift a little towards heavier and taller sailors in strong winds. In light winds it will depend on the rig weight and how well it pumps,' said Appel. The sailing events at the 2008 Olympics will take place in Qingdao. Traditionally, wind conditions in this port city are light in summer. Final testing of the 'Pryde' board will take place in the next few weeks before the equipment goes into production in Thailand. The Mistral will still be used as the board at next year's China National Games and the ISAF World Youth Championships. It could also be in use at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. 'We will start production soon, but I expect delivery of the new boards late in the first quarter of next year,' said Pryde. 'The cost of a complete set of equipment will be around Euro3,000.' Pryde said he was very grateful that the world governing body had decided to plump for his hi-tech design and said it would help attract the top sailors in the world to windsurfing, and also make the sport more attractive to spectators. 'The Mistral never attracted the top athletes, especially in the men's category. But my board will convince high-performance sailors to compete in the Olympics. This board is entirely opposite to the present Imco class, which favoured lightweight people,' said Pryde. This is the second time that Pryde's equipment will be used in the windsurfing events at the Olympics. At the 1992 Barcelona Games, when San San made her Olympic debut, Pryde's company made the Lechner boards, which were later replaced by the Mistral. Now, after holding sway for three Olympics, the Mistral has also been declared obsolete.