The long road to Rio 2016 begins in earnest this coming week as the first major European event of the new Olympiad gets under way at the Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofía Mapfre in Palma. It seems a long time since the end of the 2012 Olympic Games, but it has also been a period of transition for the Finn class with a large influx of new sailors joining the class.
CN Arenal, 44 Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofia Mapfre
To date there are 76 registered entries for Palma and the main interest will be focussed around the new, young faces pitting their skills against the more experienced hands. Initially entries for Palma were capped at 60, but following the usual large response it wasn’t long before they were put back up to 80 to accommodate all the sailors who wanted to attend.
Only 10 of the sailors from London2012 are competing in Palma including bronze medalist Jonathan Lobert and fourth placed Pieter-Jan Postma (NED). The high turnover of sailors is indicative of the number of juniors and new sailors the fleet is attracting. An encouraging four South American countries are represented including the welcome return of 2008 Finn Olympian Johnny Bilbao (VEN). Interest in Finn sailing in South America is expected to increase dramatically as 2016 approaches.
The usual strong British team includes the return, albeit briefly, of 2011 World Champion Giles Scott (GBR). While there is only a single entrant from USA, the winner of the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami, Caleb Paine (USA), the largest team in Palma is from Russia, with an incredible 14 sailors entered, including the winner of the 84 boat fleet Semaine International de Cannes in February, Eduard Skornyakov (RUS).
Arenal training Camps 2013 Jonathan Lobert
There are also a number of returning Olympians from the Star class. From Brazil, the double Olympic Star medalist Bruno Prada (BRA) is testing the waters for a possible 2016 campaign, pitting his wits against the 2012 Olympian Jorge Zarif (BRA), who so far has proved to be the more dominant of the two. Another interesting development is the addition of the 2012 Star gold medalist Max Salminen (SWE) to the fleet. He is fresh into his 2016 campaign, and definitely one to watch.
New Zealand is fronting its strongest team for many years with the former Laser world number two Josh Junior (NZL) up against Andrew Murdoch (NZL), who has placed fifth in the last two Olympics in the Laser class.
Current world number one, Brendan Casey (AUS) heads a three strong Australian team of Oliver Tweddell (AUS) and newcomer Jake Lilley (AUS). Lilley’s ambition knows no bounds and at two meters high and 96 kg at just 19 years old, his progress will be interesting to watch.
Lilley said in a recent interview, 'After the 2012 European season, I came to the realisation that I was far too big for the Laser Class. I talked to Brendan Casey about his thoughts on moving to the Finn, as he himself had been too big in the Laser for too long, and it became clear that the Finn was going to be the class for me.'
CN ARENAL, 44 TROFEO S.A.R. PRINCESA SOFÍA MAPFRE Piotr Kula
Lilley is benefiting from a strong and growing domestic Finn scene in Australia. 'I see the class growing at all levels, and a new generation coming through. The Finn Class is a bunch of great people and love to help each other out. We are trying to structure more training and racing together to all push each other to better levels. I love it and the camaraderie is great.'
Add to the mix the sailors who have been training hard at the Dinghy Academy in Valencia. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) is clearly on a mission and has probably put in more hours than most, but his ‘apprentices’ in Valencia, Alejandro Foglia (URU) and Agustín Zabalua (ARG) will be sailing their first major Finn regatta in Palma after an extensive winter’s training under Zbogar’s guidance.
For these and others, Palma will be the first indication on their progress since last season and the value of their winter training. For newcomer Salminen it will be interesting whether he can convert his experience in the Star to the Finn. He said, 'So far, it’s all been good. It's a big build-up phase now in the very beginning to get everything as good and organised as we had it in the Star. Because now when you've seen how a campaign is supposed to be run you don't want to settle for anything less. But for sure it's a strength. I have to be able to use mine and Freddy's campaign as a template.'
Salminen had a brief period in the Finn for about a year before the Star campaign. 'I think it helped me very much. For a start I know how fun it is so I didn't ever have to think about it. I had my Finn since the old days so two weeks after the Olympics I was already sitting in the boat. Then also I knew what was needed to be done. I knew the pieces of the puzzle and what areas I needed to train hard on.'
CN ARENAL, 44 TROFEO S.A.R. PRINCESA SOFÍA MAPFRE
Salminen has been part of the training at the Dinghy Academy in Valencia over the winter before spending some time with Jonathan Lobert in La Rochelle, the only Olympic medalist in the class who is still actively sailing.
Lobert took some time out after the Games but has been back training since January. 'I started training again in the gym and in the bike at the beginning of January and I started sailing again in February. I did some training alone for 10 days in La Rochelle in February and then Max Salminen joined me for 10 days. In Palma I have been training with Andrew Mills (GBR), Mark Andrews (GBR) and Giorgo Poggi (ITA) and some other guys.'
'The good thing in sailing is as the venue changes the game changes, so Rio will be different from Weymouth and I will need new skills to succeed there. I see this new campaign as a super exciting challenge with some new guys such as Max joining the fleet and a lot of old guys leaving so it will be interesting to see the new fleet classification.'
Giles Scott, will also be sailing his first major regatta since Sail for Gold last year, though he is currently focussing on the America’s Cup.'I’ve been doing very little Finn sailing since joining Luna Rossa. I've been based out in New Zealand and haven’t had much of a chance at all to get into my Finn, but it will be nice to compete in Palma and Hyeres in an attempt to keep my eye in.'
His performance will be more an indication of how much he has retained rather than of training as he says, 'I arrive in Palma on the 23rd so will only have five days before the regatta begins. There has been some Finn sailing going on over the last couple of months that some of the new British lads have been getting involved in, but I've been a little removed from what's been going on over the winter.'
'Unfortunately I'm having to be very selective with regattas this year. I'm basically going to do what ever I can fit around my AC commitments, which as it stands at the moment is only Palma and Hyeres until after the Cup. After the Cup I then plan to get back into my Finn a lot more.'
With all this interest it is certainly going to be a fascinating season ahead for the class with the new format Sailing World Cup and the newly established EUROSAF Champions Sailing Cup providing a core of traditional events, in an as yet, unproven structure. In addition the Europeans is being held in wavy Warnemunde, while the Finn Gold Cup heads to Tallinn, the second time the class has held its world championship in Estonia.
The Finn World Masters fleet heads to La Rochelle in May and already the entry list is approaching 200, with around 250 boats expected. The Silver Cup, the Junior World Championship is being held on Lake Garda in July with boats available for charter for sailors from other classes wishing to try their hand. It is going to be another packed season for the fleet.
Racing at the Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofía Mapfre Sailing World Cup in Palma begins on Monday April 1. Only a fool would believe it isn’t going to be as gripping as ever.