by Craig Heydon
Mathew Belcher has the opportunity to continue his record breaking winning run when the 2013 470 World Championship begins in La Rochelle, France, on Monday.
Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan racing in Europe at the 470 World Championship
Belcher and former crew Malcolm Page became the first sailors to win three 470 World Championship titles in a row when they won gold last year with Belcher looking to extend that to four with new team mate Will Ryan.
The London 2012 gold medallist has won 16 regattas straight, the last eight with Ryan, including the recent 2013 470 European Championship.
'Our performance since teaming up has been great, in some areas remarkable,' said Belcher. 'We really couldn’t have expected anymore, we’re certainly enjoying what we’re doing and are looking forward to where we can take the next step.
'The main thing for Will and I is to focus on our performance,' he said. 'To even be in a position to think about winning is remarkable, we’re a new team who have only been sailing together for nine months. I don’t think any new team in their first year together has been in the position we are now.'
As world number ones Belcher and Ryan are sure to come under added scrutiny in La Rochelle, but it’s not something that Belcher pays too much attention to.
'We always have a target on our back, not in a negative way, but our performances justify it,' said Belcher. 'If any other team had achieved the same they would also have people taking notice. The respect we have in the fleet, and the respect we give to our competitors make for great racing. It’s the same for all, about being the best on the water.'
Ryan said that he’s looking forward to the challenge of competing in the biggest 470 event of the year, with the 2013 World Championship also the 50th anniversary of the class.
'I feel like we’ve had about as good a start as possible to our sailing together,' said Ryan. 'Each event is just about trying to learn and improve as a combination to feel more comfortable, and we’ve been very fortunate over the events we’ve had to have a full range of conditions and lots of race opportunities.
'This event is different in that there is the added pressure of it being a World Championship, but I think the biggest challenge will be the sheer number of boats,' he said. 'It’s the 50th anniversary of the class and it looks like there will be over 120 boats in the men’s fleet.
'The first few days will be about just trying to keep clear of the other teams a little but once the finals series begins it will be the same guys and it will be the same game of trying to sail well and be consistent to be in with a chance on the final day,' said Ryan.
Joining Belcher and Ryan in the men’s fleet will be fellow Australians Matthew and Robert Crawford, Alexander and Patrick Conway and Scott Cotton and Tom Potter.
A number of new Australian crews will be lining up in the women’s fleet, including Beijing 2008 gold medallist Elise Rechichi and two-time Olympic rower Sarah Cook.
Rechichi and Cook have made impressive progress since teaming up at the end of last year and are looking forward to contesting their first World Championship together.
'Our team is moving forward well. Elise and I have a great dynamic and partnership,' said Cook. 'It was really important for us to determine whether we were compatible as a team even before we set foot in a boat. It’s a unique situation, to have an Olympic gold medallist helm with the foresight, commitment and understanding to be prepared to teach a non-sailor to crew. Then to find a new crew who’s a dual-Olympian in a sport that is physically, mentally and technically difficult, and was willing to go back to the bottom of the tree in a new sport.
'I think we knew all along that this could work but even we’re surprised as to how far we’ve come in only nine months, especially when we were told from the outset that we wouldn’t be able to make it around the course by the Worlds,' she said. 'Our preparations here are going well. We have been spending time addressing the biggest priorities we identified following the European Championship and our training camp in Spain. So far we’ve been making some great gains, as well as familiarising ourselves with the unique conditions in La Rochelle.
It’s been a rapid turnaround for Cook, who a year ago was rowing for Australia at London 2012.
'This time last year I was racing at the Games in the Women’s Eight for Australia,' she said. 'I was also interviewing for jobs overseas, so I didn’t really see my life taking this turn. I didn’t meet Elise till I was at the airport, preparing to leave London. However once I met her I couldn’t shake the thought of switching sports so I turned down the job offer in New York and enrolled in a Learn to Sail course. By mid-October I was planning my Rio 2016 470 campaign!'
Sisters Sasha and Jaime Ryan will also be racing in the women’s fleet in France, along with Jacqueline Gurr and Amelia Catt, and Lucy Shephard and Aurora Paterson.
Racing begins in La Rochelle on Monday and continues until Saturday.
Australian Sailing Team website