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Keeping In Tune For The Olympic Games


  • Keeping In Tune For The Olympic Games

    Big breeze and massive wind shifts of day two of the Nacra 17 World Championship delivered plenty of drama in La Grande Motte, the South of France.

    Selection trials continue for three countries at what is the last big event of the season before the greatest one of all, the Olympic Games just over two months from now. While the destiny of most of the 148 teams in Nacra 17, 49er and 49erFX has already been determined, for the catamaran crews from Austria, Sweden and the USA this is a critical and decisive regatta.

    Lying in second place overall behind those runaway Italians are the Swedish team of Ida Svensson and Markus Dackhammar. This crew went into the final selection regatta behind their fellow Swedes and rivals for the Olympic berth, Emil Jarudd and Hanna Jonsson. But Svensson claims she’s not getting too caught up in the Olympic tussle, instead concentrating on their routines and processes on the water. “We’re just going to focus on doing as well as we can for this regatta,” said the helmswoman. “It’s an ongoing selection but it’s going to be decided after this regatta so all we can do is just do as good as we can and we’ll see what happens afterwards.”

    Austrian rivalry

    Meanwhile Laura Farese and Matthaus Zochling scored an important race win at the end of a hectic afternoon of strong, shifting northerly wind. The Austrians move up to 11th overall in the Nacra 17 standings and now sit 10 places in front of their rivals for Olympic selection, Lukas Haberl and Tanja Frank in 21st overall.

    “It was another windy day like the first day,” said Farese. “We just focused on our goals and had quite a consistent day, even winning the last race.” As for the selection battle: “Both of us are quite good teams and we are just trying to do our best at these Worlds. We’re fighting the next days and then we’ll see [who is selected].”

    After two brutal days of high-wind action, the forecast suggests that the competition will shift from bruising boxing match to a more subtle game of chess in lighter breeze. “We hope it’s still foiling winds,” said Zochling, “because that suits us better but I think we also improved a lot in the light stuff and we will be competitive in anything that comes our way.”

    Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson are sailing a solid regatta to put themselves in fifth overall after the first two days. “The first race was moderate, really nice,” smiled Wilkinson. “Then it kicked up to around 17 or 18 knots for the last race. We had a few top mark moments that might have cost us a few places. A couple of nosedives, and the last one I was kind of hanging on to my trapeze in between the hulls – about three metres behind the boat. So probably not the best way to bear away. But we managed to land it somehow and then survive, so all in all, pretty happy.”

    The two Italian teams enjoyed excellent scores on opposite sides of the qualifying draw, with Gianluigi Ugolini and Maria Giubilei scoring 1,2,4 and Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti with 1,1,2. Even that last-race second place was almost a victory for the defending World Champions, as Tita explained: “The Spanish were leading around the last windward mark, and we and the British did a gybe-set in the other direction. At the end it was a photo-finish between us and John [Gimson], but I think they got it.”

    Banti looked as relaxed as ever about what most considered to be a hard day on the water. “The last race was a bit stronger but in this flat water it’s easy sailing and very fun.”

    49erFX: Change of lead in favour of Poland

    With lots of capsizing in the 49erFX fleet, the women’s skiff completed just one race today. Despite winning the only race, Jana Germani and Giorgia Bertuzzi slip off the top spot due to the Italians’ slightly worse scores on tiebreak. Instead, a second place across the finish raises Aleksandra Melzacka and Sandra Jankowiak from Poland into the top spot.

    49er: Change of lead but Britain still on top

    Three more races in wildly shifty conditions of up to 40 degrees variation have done nothing to dislodge Great Britain from the top two spots in the men’s 49er. It’s just the order of those British crews has changed with new pairing of James Grummett and Rhos Hawes now moving to the top and displacing James Peters and Fynn Sterritt to second overall.

    After finishing fourth at the Worlds earlier this season, Grummett and Hawes have enjoyed instant success together. Surely their world-class chemistry must have taken even them by surprise? “Er, not really,” said Hawes. “We’ve probably spent a few years planning to do it and not ending up doing it. So it’s nice to be there now.”

    Grummett puts part of the chemistry down to a solid friendship. “We’ve been pretty good mates quite a while. We obviously only teamed up six months ago or so, but I think a lot of it is just our teamwork. It comes to us pretty naturally. We get the boat going pretty quick, and I think a lot of it is just how we work together.”

    Today was a significant moment for Marseille as the Olympic flame arrived in the city that will host the Olympic Regatta 69 days from now. Newly selected Olympic representatives for France and the reigning World Champions Erwan Fischer and Clement Pequin acknowledged the growing excitement in the south of France.

    “It’s really something special to have the Olympic flame arrive in France,” said Pequin, as Fischer added: “We have a lot of work still to do after this week, coming back to Marseille for training in the venue and preparing ourselves and our equipment as much as possible. And it’s good that we are looking at a forecast for lighter winds tomorrow as this is an area we need to work on for the Games.”

    Thursday is indeed forecast for lighter breeze as the regatta reaches the final day of qualifying before the Nacra 17 and 49er men get regrouped for the gold fleet finals.

    written by Andy Rice, event reporter


    Nacra 17 Worlds, Day 1: Germany stumbles while Italy races ahead

    Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer opened their Nacra 17 World Championship in the best way possible, the German crew winning the first of three scheduled races in their half of the qualifying groups. But things started to go wrong in the second race, as Kohlhoff explained.

    “We made a couple of silly mistakes after winning the first race and a nice battle with the Italians. The jib sheet snapped, so the jib was flapping upwind, and then an unforced error coming into the finish, gybing too soon.”

    That misjudgment led to a pitchpole and subsequent capsize right before the finish line, resulting in major damage to one of the rudders and a minor injury to Kohlhoff’s leg. This put them out of action for the rest of the day, dropping the Germans to 30th overall. “I guess we were a bit overexcited,” smiled Kohlhoff, smiling ruefully before returning to a mountain of boat work and repair jobs.

    After finishing second to the Germans in the opening race, Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti surged away to victory in the next two heats, avoiding all the pitfalls and capsizes that were engulfing other Nacra 17s. As they have shown so often over the years, the reigning Olympic and World Champions are capable of turning on an extra gear, particularly when it comes to foiling upwind.

    It was also a very good day for Ida Svensson and Marcus Dackhammar whose scores of 2,1,6 from the other qualifying group place the Swedes in second overall. With the Swedish Olympic selection set to conclude after this event, Svensson and Dackhammar’s performance closes the gap on Emil Jarudd and Hanna Jonsson who are in eighth place after today, albeit the points gap from second to 10th overall is tiny at this early stage.

    Sitting in third after day one are the New Zealanders Micah Wilkinson and Erica Dawson, just two points ahead of Britain’s John Gimson and Anna Burnet in fourth overall.

    With more moderate breeze blowing directly off the shore for Wednesday’s forecast, day two of qualifying is set to be another big challenge for minds and bodies in La Grande Motte.

    49er Europeans: Fast start for Peters and Sterritt

    After a lacklustre performance at the World Championships in Lanzarote a couple of months ago, James Peters and Fynn Sterritt are keen to make amends in La Grande Motte this week. Britain’s Olympic representatives for Paris 2024 opened their Europeans with a stellar day, winning races one and three of their three-heat outing in yellow group of qualifying.

    “We had the boat well set up today and we were going fast,” said Peters. “I don’t think anyone knew what was going on with the wind, and when no one can work it any pattern, it generally pays to be fast. With a bit more speed it makes you feel like you’ve got a chance to have another look over your shoulder, another second to make a better decision. It makes you able to relax and get away from the other boats a bit, a bit of breathing room which makes for a much more enjoyable day’s racing.”

    Only recently teamed up in a 49er together, James Grummett and Rhos Hawes created instant chemistry when they sailed to fourth place at the Worlds earlier this season. Competing on the other side of the qualifying draw from their British teammates, Grummett and Hawes notched up almost identical scores to Peters and Sterritt, also winning their first and last races of the session and taking a not-quite-so-good-but-still-very-respectable ninth in the second race.

    This stunning opening day places the British teams in first and second overall ahead of a world-class field. Best of the rest were the New Zealanders Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie. They were relieved to have come through the day in good shape after the Kiwis suffered a shaky start to their 2024 season, as McKenzie explained: “We haven’t had such a good run at other events lately so we’ve been changing a few details of how we work together and today it felt pretty good how things went in the races. Three counters on a tricky day, so we’re happy with that.”

    Having missed out on Olympic selection for France despite coming to this event as the defending European Champions, Lucas Rual and Emile Amoros are back in the saddle and looking to enjoy the week.

    “It’s a very hard part of Olympic sailing that only one team gets to go to the Games for each nation, but I enjoy sailing with Lucas and being with our coach, our chef and my father, and it’s nice to be back after a bit of a break from the boat. We’re sailing in France, we enjoy what we do and that’s why we do this sport, because we love it.”

    They’re sitting in fourth place overall, just one place and two points ahead of the team that beat them to the Olympic spot, the recently crowned World Champions Erwan Fischer and Clement Pequin.

    While the British managed to make some sense of the wildly shifting offshore breeze, the unpredictability was catching out many of the great and the good. Even the Croatian legend Sime Fantela was moved to describe the day as “a game of Snakes & Ladders”, a reference to a British board game that was particularly apt for the up-and-down nature of the racing. Brothers Sime and Mihovil sit in 13th overall but know there are plenty more snakes and ladders to come in the next five days.

    49erFX Europeans: Italy take the early lead

    While the wind shifts were the primary cause for concern in the men’s 49er fleet, by the time the 49erFX fleet finished a little later in the afternoon there were bigger problems to deal with. Nosedives and capsizes were proving increasingly hard to avoid in the choppy seaway and very few came ashore without having got their mast wet at some point in the three-race session.

    In the absence of some of the leading 49erFX teams from Sweden, Brazil and The Netherlands, Italy’s Jana Germani and Giorgia Bertuzzi are among the favourites for a podium finish this week. The Italians scored a set of three fifth places to take the early lead ahead of Finland’s Ronja Gronblom and Veera Hokka in second overall.

    The Finns won the last race of the afternoon, putting them a point in front of third-placed American veterans Steph Roble and Maggie Shea. The other race winners were Poland’s Aleksandra Melzacka and Sandra Jankowiak, and winners of the opening race, local heroes Sarah Steyaert and Charline Picon. Actually the two French friends are from La Rochelle on the Brittany coast of France, but Steyaert said that sometimes La Grande Motte can feel a bit like sailing at home on the Atlantic Ocean.

    “It’s nice to have the sunshine again and to be sailing on this stretch of water which can sometimes be quite wavy,” said Steyaert. A capsize in the final race of the afternoon saw the French team drop from fifth to 16th across the finish line but they’re still in fifth overall thanks to the first and ninth places earlier in the day. “The tactics were there, the onboard communication was great and we’re happy with our speed. I’m enjoying every moment, even the capsizes, because we’re coming to the end of this campaign and the end of my career in this sport.”

    written by Andy Rice, event reporter
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