49erFX Worlds: Biggest Regatta of their Lives

Published on February 7th, 2016

The 2016 World Championship for the Nacra 17, 49er, and 49erFX – the three fastest Olympic sailing events – will be held together on February 9-14 in Clearwater, FL. Over 120 teams from more than 37 countries will be competing in front of the Pier on Clearwater Beach. Here’s a preview report on the 49erFX event…

Women’s Skiff racing is in its infancy. With the exception of a few ambitious women who jumped into 18 footers or raced 49er against the men, this past four years is the first large scale movement of women into full trapeze skiffs.

The impact of having so many talented sailors try something new all at once is what makes the fight for Rio Gold in 2016 so compelling. It seems that each event sees another team take their sailing to a new level and make the leap to contender status. The fleet is learning how to push the boats, themselves, and the team dynamics further than they ever imagined, with the reward so close they can taste it.

Of course, the Rio Olympics will not be the most competitive regatta of 2016. The most competitive regatta of 2016 will be this World Championship – the first Olympic-class sailing world championship to be held in the United States since 2010.

Unlike the games where only one boat per nation qualifies, challenging for the Worlds are full squads of Danes, Brits, French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and the rest. Additionally, this Worlds is being used as a selection regatta by many nations to determine their Olympic representative. Among those countries is USA, with the Worlds as the second and final event of their selection series.

Americans Paris Henken and Helena Scutt are one of the youngest teams on circuit at 18 and 22 years old, however, they’ve been training hard for the quad and emerged from the first selection event at Sailing World Cup Miami as the top US team.

“To be in this position – competing to go to the Olympic Games- is an opportunity, a privilege, and an honor,” reports the Henken/Scutt team. “Going into this make-or-break World Championship, personally we are more overwhelmed by gratitude and excitement than nerves or anxiety.”

The US series couldn’t be tighter as Henken and Scutt hold only a one point lead over relatively new to the boat team of Emily Dallenbaugh and Elizabeth Barry. They started sailing skiffs in June 2014 and had a great regatta in Miami. Click here for the tracker to follow the US selection series.

While the US teams are not yet at World title form, the 2013 World Champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech look to be. It’s been a while since they stood atop a 49erFX podium, a trend undone last week as they won the Miami Sailing World Cup by over 30 points. They utilized an aggressive strategic style, solid starting, and strong speed throughout the wind range to shoot well above the rest of the competition by weeks end. Red Bull sponsored and training partners with 2014 World Sailors of the Year, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze of Brazil, this kiwi duo is reasserting their claims to favorite.

Also on fire are Danes Jena Hansen and Katja Iversen of the venerable Danish squad. One hallmark of these four years has been the Danish squad consistently sending three teams into the top 10 regatta after regatta. Their trials is a three regatta series consisting of 2015 Worlds, 2016 Miami, and 2016 Worlds meaning we are 2/3 of the way through. Ida Nielsen and Marie Olsen were off to a great start leading the 2015 Worlds until they faltered on the last day while still saving a third place… but Jena and Katja were only 1 place behind in fourth, meaning there was not much of a lead generated. In Miami, however, Jena and Katja claimed the silver while Ida and Marie were back in 10th place. The Shutt Sisters have not fared so well in their trials so far and with a 7th and 14th will be looking to apply the pressure early by coming out hot if they are to have any chance at a comeback.

We can’t forget the Italian duo of Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapchich. These two are coached by long time 49er legend Gianfranco Sibello and come from strong 470 and Laser Radial backgrounds. They took a season or so to really get into the skiff sailing mentality, but then dominated in 2015. They won both the 2015 European and World Championships, on both occasions claiming the titles in the medal races with pressure on. They have shown the sporting passion Italians are famous for with the skillset to put them consistently in the hunt and rarely out of contention. With their boatspeed recently matching their sailing skills, they are looking to extend their streak of 49erFX championships.

There are numerous other strong challengers for the title from Spain, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Argentina, Australia, and Germany. Of these the Spanish, British, French, and Argentinian pairs have secured their Olympic berths. The remaining teams are still looking to qualify within their nations.

Five German teams have been mounting full focus attempts at sailing well here at the World Championships. This is the second leg of their three event trials, with Porto 2015 Europeans as the first leg and the final leg in Palma in March. The German squad skipped competing in Miami to be fully prepared in Clearwater, and any of the team could contend for the championship. Whether they can keep their minds clear of their trials will be a difficult test, in addition to all the other nations looking to place well.

Racing is from Feb 9-14, 2016, with the first three days used for qualifying and the final three days for Gold Fleet racing and the medal race on the final day.

Event details: http://www.saillife.com/#!2016-nacra-17-49er-and-49erfx-worlds-/c3yw

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