Next stop, Rio

Published on June 13th, 2016

As the final major World Sailing Event before the Olympics, Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland provided a preview for what we will see in Rio come August.

By Lisa Gabrielson, Sailing World
A walk down memory lane for many sailors, the final World Sailing event before the Olympic regatta was held at none other than the 2012 Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth and Portland, United Kingdom. For some athletes, the Weymouth world cup was their first opportunity to square off with international competition since selection, but for all it was the final chance to test their merits against the same teams they’ll see in Rio in two months time.

All eyes were on the Laser Radial Fleet, as the three medalists from London are all returning to Rio, and were all in Weymouth. China’s Lijia Xu, the 2012 gold medalist, finished second, behind 2012 silver medalist Marit Bowmeester (NED). Noticeably absent from the podium was Evi Van Acker (BEL), the 2012 bronze medalist, who finished 5th overall behind newcomer and training partner Emma Plasschaert.

Both Van Acker and Plasschaert had DSQs in the early days of the regatta, and Bouwmeester held a commanding lead through the entire week, save the threat of France’s Mathilde de Kerangat, who Bouwmeester match raced in the medal race to ensure her own gold medal win.

“It feels good to win,” Bouwmeester said to World Sailing. “I wasn’t certain on the left of the course so I changed a little bit and took France out. It was quite difficult to slow someone down in this breeze so I tried to hold her up as much as I could and I am glad I succeeded.”

With all three London medalists still on or close to the podium this close to Rio and with no signs of slowing down, it’ll be a true fight in Rio to unseat any of these class greats. This regatta might have been just a fluke for Van Acker, but if not, a podium place may open up in the Radial.

Billy Besson and Marie Riou surprised with a bronze medal finish in the Nacra 17. The French pair, who have dominated the class for the entire quad, posted just one race win and two second place finishes. They were bested by Great Britian’s Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves in first, and Germany’s Paul Kohlhoff and Caorlina Wener in second.

The French, who have been sailing on a modified platform after damage required them to replace their dagger boards, have handily won almost every major event they’ve entered leading up to Rio, so this shakeup on the leaderboard is an interesting change of events. In a brand new class with such a steep learning curve, the modified boat has given them a major edge, until now.

The Men’s 470 class had it’s own share of shakeups. In February, three-time world champions Matt Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) were unseated from their title-winning streak by Croatia’s Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic. The Croatians continued to control the class, winning both the Sailing World Cup Hyeres in April and in Weymouth last week.

For Men’s 470 sailors Belcher and Ryan, who finished fourth overall in Weymouth, the result does not bode well for their performance in just two months time in Rio. Their strength is in big breeze, but the conditions in Weymouth this past weekend were unusually light; not unlike the conditions on the inside courses in Rio. If these conditions are challenging for Belcher and Ryan, we could continue see some new faces atop the podium.

On the women’s side, the UK swept the 470 podium, with Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark taking home top honors. The duo will sail in Rio for their home country. Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre took the medal race victory and with it, silver. Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter completed the all-British podium. This domination solidifies the fact that we will likely see a Union Jack on, if not at the top of, the Rio podium for the Women’s 470.

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