New teams, Old teams for Paris 2024
Published on April 5th, 2022
It was for the Sydney 2000 Olympics when the idea of a skiff event was conceived, and after a review process, the 49er was selected for a doublehanded event. It had been designed specifically for the process, and while it was an Open event, it needed two decent-sized men.
Providing a high performance women’s event was on the slate for Rio 2016, and when the braintrust behind the 49er depowered the boat for two women, the 49erFX was born. Earning selection again, the pairing of these two skiff dinghies delivered gender balance and excitement to the Games.
Also new for Rio 2016 was the Nacra 17, again specifically designed to fit the newly created Mixed Multihull event. While the boat has had growing pains, it too fits the evolving template for Olympic Sailing events to highlight athleticism and excitement.
While there has been significant anxiety for Sailing to present an event program that meets the demands of the International Olympic Committee, which ultimately led to the removal of the much-loved Finn dinghy, no three boats have been more secure for Paris 2024 than the 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17.
These three class organizations, notably administered by the same company, provide a preview as the Paris 2024 quad begins:
The Path to Paris is one year shorter than normal, but like normal, Princessa Sophia (Apr 4-9; Palma, Spain) kicks off the unofficial start of the action. All of the 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 Gold Medalists are returning to defend their titles, but behind them, there are quite a few new and old teams they will need to face down.
Chasing more bling
Martine Grael with Kahena Kunze (BRA) are chasing a three-peat. Only Ben Ainslie and Paul Elvstrom have won three gold medals in a row, four in their cases, and the dynamic Brazilian pair could be joining sailing royalty.
Dylan Fletcher (GBR) in the 49er has a new crew, Rhos Haws at the bow. Stuart Bithell (GBR) retired on top, having won his second Olympic medal while the ever-hungry Fletcher returns with the aim of being the first repeat 49er gold medalist.
Ruggero Tita with Caterina Banti (ITA) aims to repeat in the Nacra 17 in Paris. Ruggero will be doing double duty, with commitments to America’s Cup challenger Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team as one goal while retaining their spot at the top of the foiling world on the other.
Once you go black
Each of the 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 have some noticeable differences in the boats. The skiffs have new masts, which have almost the same spec as the old mast so not too obvious outside of the fleet. However, the skiffs also have new sails, very similar in size to the old ones but being jet black in color marking a dramatic change to the look of the class.
With the goal of increased consistency and durability, North Sails 3Di process won a competitive bid to build the 49er and FX sails for the quadrennial. So far about 2/3 of the fleet has been supplied with the new sails so the fleets will race in any configuration of new and old sails they may wish to over the European spring season before the summer championships require the new sails.
Loyal to the foil
The Nacra 17 fleet also undertook a small technical change. The rudder rakes for Paris are now adjustable while racing. For Tokyo 2020, the rudder was required to be fixed in place once the start gun sounded. Now teams are rigging control systems to allow movement of the rudder rakes, and crucially the elevator angle of attack, so they can move the rudders in parallel, in scale, and even differentially while racing.
Visibly, the change to the Nacra 17 is much less dramatic than in the 49er, but its impact on the racing could be substantial. All eyes will be turned to see if the era of upwind foiling is upon us.
The ability to adjust the rudder angle means teams don’t have to make a race-long commitment to trying to foil, dramatically reducing the risk of trying to upwind foil and has resulted in a lot of foiling practice. Whether the out-of-competition training translates to racecourse success will determine the modes teams ultimately land on, but there is a buzz developing.
The entire podium of Nacra 17 teams are returning to the Olympic chase. In the cases of John Gimson with Anna Burnett (GBR), they are completely focused on the task. “In the last quad I was still with Artemis Racing, and could not focus completely on Nacra 17 sailing,” said Gimson. “This quad I’ve committed to spending the full two years completely focused on getting the gold medal.”
Paul Kohloff with Alica Stuhlemmer (GER) also returns looking to move up on their bronze medal performance. In early practice the young German duo seems to have an edge in upwind foiling, having tried it the most last quad as well.
Beyond the top three, however, there is a lot of change in the Nacra 17 fleet. Tara Pacheco (ESP), who was 6th in Tokyo now teams up with Iago Marra (ESP) who was 4th in Tokyo in the 49er. Likewise, each of their partners, Diego Botin and Florian Tritell, now team up together in the 49er.
Similarly, Santiago Lange with Cecilia Carranza (ARG), the 2016 Gold medalists and Tokyo 7th place finishers have traded with Vicky Travascio with Sol Branz who themselves placed 5th in Tokyo. Now, the two skippers combine in the Nacra 17 with Santiago helming for Vicky, while the two crews team up with Sol moving to the helm and Cecilia crewing for her.
As usual, the Dutch FX teams continue to mix around. 2021 World and European Champion, Odile Van Aanholt, who won the 2021 championships with different crews, now teams up with Tokyo Silver medalist Annette Duetz.
The 2013 49erFX Bronze medalist Sarah Steyaert (FRA) returns to the class from almost a decade in the ILCA 6 to pair up with Tokyo Gold medalist, Charline Picon, who moves to the 49erFX from windsurfing.
The 49er fleet also sees a couple of medalists from other events joining the skiff scene. Tokyo 470 Silver medalist from Sweden, Fredrick Bergstrom, begins his 49er career.
Partnerships in Olympic sailing are extreme relationships. Total commitment and dedication, learning, growing, and an excruciating magnifying glass from the outside are the daily reality for these sailors. Additionally, much of the Olympic slate has been shifted around from Tokyo to Paris necessitating some changes.
What we are seeing with so many top sailors continuing to sail, but also changing partnerships is the wonderful feeling of empowerment and ambition the Olympics can curate in a sailor, building motivation. As these sailors seek a catalyst to reach a higher level than before, perhaps a new partnership will be the key they have been so close to finding.
Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Program:
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Mixed Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Women’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Men’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Women’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Venue: Marseille, France
Dates: July 26-August 11