Laser World Championships heralds new era for Sultanate
by Daphne Morgan Barnicoat on 9 Jan 2014
Oman joined the ranks of recognized world-class racing locales after being acclaimed for its success in running three back-to-back regattas at Mussanah as part of the celebrated 2013 Laser World Championships ending in January 2014.
Boys fleet in action during the 2013 Laser Radial Youth World Championships Oman Sail
Until 2013, Oman had never hosted a sailing world championships of any sort before but on November 24, after two years of meticulous organization and planning by Oman Sail and Oman's Ministry of Sports Affairs, the world’s best Laser sailors lined up at the start of the Laser Worlds to herald a new era for the Sultanate.
Since then, 393 sailors from 51 nations have lined up at the start of three separate World Championships ending on January 3 2014 when the curtain came down on a captivating and hugely successful Laser Radial Youth Worlds competition.
Over the six week period, most competitors brought coaches or family and friends to the venue to support their campaigns and with the regattas timing, falling within the Christmas holiday period, some competitors brought all their families to the Millennium Resort Hotel in Mussanah for a break.
It was Brazilian legend Robert Scheidt who dominated the headlines in that first week though as storms wreaked havoc across the region, the wind in Mussanah averaged around 15 knots and he took time to make his mark on a world class fleet.
Many wondered if the eight times Laser World Champion could make a miraculous comeback having spent nine years out of the class racing Stars and having reached the grand old age of 40.
Scheidt seemed uncertain too and started out softly. But on the second day, he swept to his first win and by the end of a marathon third day which comprised three races in a challenging 15 knot breeze, no one was in any doubt about either his fitness levels or his thirst for success.
His margin of victory at the end was a whopping 13 points over Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus and an emotional Scheidt said his ninth World Championship title was his best yet.
'I didn’t know what to expect when I came back into the Lasers but winning the Worlds after a tough seven days means a lot. I am at a different stage of my life – being a dad and being away from Laser sailing all these years makes it more special,' he said.
The Laser Masters started a week later with an impressive 186 men and women aged between 35 and 81 flying in from all over the world to flex their muscles, settle old scores and have some fun as the Mussanah breeze reverted to type with a 10 knot sea breeze kicking in each day at around 1300hrs
With eight different classes, this proved a major test of the race team’s management and organization but having been trained specially for the event, a relatively inexperienced team pulled out all the stops and according to Jeff Martin, CEO of International Laser Class Association, placed themselves on a par with professional race teams at any sailing event around the world.
'This event and the Laser Standard World Championships before it have both gone very well,' he said.
'It would stand happily alongside most of the other major events in the world of a similar status. Quite a lot of the race team did not have much experience and were thrown in at the deep end but had been very well trained. They were dedicated to their work and performed very well.'
Peter Seidenberg, the 76 year old American who had attended Laser Master Championships since they were launched in 1980 put a ghost to rest when he beat his old rival Keith Wilkins of Britain for the first time ever to take the 2013 Radial Great Grand Masters title.
There was a popular win for Australian Vanessa Dudley in the Radial Grand Masters and Ian Brown of Britain in the Radial Apprentice class. Scott Leith from New Zealand had recently switched to the Laser Standard rig from the Radials but he was unbeatable in the Standard Apprentice class.
'The venue here is superb,'said a delighted Leith.
'It’s easily the best I have ever experienced and it’s a shame there is nothing like this in New Zealand. The breeze suited me – I know I could be pretty competitive in the medium to light stuff and the staff, race committee and organisation have all been brilliant, the opening night party was good fun and the buffet has been fantastic.'
The breakfast and dinner buffets at the Millennium Resort Hotel were widely admired by athletes and guests alike at all three World Championships with the quantities consumed at the Laser Standard Worlds taking even an experienced catering staff by surprise.
There were close competitions at all three events but the closest and best was saved to last as the best Laser Radial Youth sailors in the world arrived in Mussanah to further their fledgling Olympic careers.
It was a wide open field on Day One when 51 boys and 28 girls took to the water and it remained wide open until the very last race when a tenth place from Hungarian Benjamin Vadnai was calculated to be enough to win the 2013 Youth Worlds title, beating 16 year old Italian Gianmarco Planchestainer by a single point.
Monika Mikkola from Finland had a similarly close tussle with Norway’s Celine Therese Herud and again the margin was a single point. At the start of the week, Mikkola had tweeted her reactions to the Mussanah venue by describing it as a ‘sailing paradise’ and by the end, she had confirmed that it was a venue she would happily pack away with her sails and carry around for her entire career.
Planchestainer would have won the regatta had he not been docked points by the Jury just hours earlier for not completing a penalty turn after hitting a mark but he returned to Lake Garda with the Under 17 title and a greatly enhanced reputation. The Girls Under 17 title was won by pint sized 16 year-old Karyna Manuel from Britain who revealed she was also training to be a professional footballer.
From arranging hotel shuttles to setting courses to updating supporters with a live blog, race organization delivered a quality professional service to sailors, officials and guests alike attracting widespread praise and a positive evaluation.
Issa Al Ismaili, Director of the Championships and Director of Events in Oman Sail added:
'The Laser Worlds have successfully raised the Sultanate’s profile as a sailing destination. The legacy of the championships will encourage more young Omanis to engage in sailing and inspire the youth sailors to develop their skills and pursue their Olympic Oman Sail