While in the distant past the USA, and more recently Great Britain and Australia have been the powerhouses of Olympic sailing, now the world sailing scene is changing and doing so at a rapid rate, with the rise and rise of China.
Overall China has improved a huge amount over the past few years and has been investing in foreign coaching talent. At the ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne 2013, there have been impressive results from the 20 Chinese sailors, the largest international team.
It is interesting to look at the history of Chinese Olympic class sailing. The first Olympic medal won by China in sailing was back in 1992, when Xiaodong Zhang won a silver medal in the Women's windsurfing event in Barcelona.
Following that, Jian Yin won the silver medal in the 2004 Women's Olympic windsurfing competition in Athens. Then in 2008 she made history with a powerful display to take China's first gold medal in sailing, triggering huge interest across the nation.
With their ever growing economic strength, the sheer power of sailor numbers, in combination with some top class coaches, the top of table results are continuing to flow.
Most recently Jon Emmett from the UK set-up the Laser Radial program, which has produced a number of world-class sailors. Now, Athens 470 Men’s Gold medallist, Kevin Burnham, has the 470 teams on the rise.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Lijia Xu took Bronze in Laser Radial, then after dominating the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit in 2011-2012, she won Laser Radial Olympic Gold in Weymouth and was recognised as Rolex World Women’s Sailor of the year 2012.
With the proposed changes to the ISAF Sailing World Cup series, the Chinese Sailing Team have decided to concentrate most of their resources on the Laser, 470 and RSX classes. This strategy has already shown success with multiple podium results and in the world rankings.
Despite the recent retirements, the Chinese Sailing Team shows no lack of quality up and coming sailors, who have been inspired by Lijia Xu's success at the London Olympics to train for the Rio games.
In the Laser Radial, now that Lijia Xu has retired, we see another light air specialist in Dongshaung Zhang, who is a cut above the other Chinese sailors in light winds and could be very well suited to the conditions in Rio.
Zhang has followed her Gold Medal in Qingdao ISAF Sailing World Cup, with a second in Melbourne. Xu and Zhang are both previous winners in Melbourne, Zhang, who was second (to Xu) at the Chinese National Games is now looking in great form. Behind her are a host of young Chinese sailors (still training in China) who recently graduated from the Optimists.
In China the Men and Women windsurfers train together and the highly competitive fleet means that the sailors who rise to the top of the fleet will have strong medal potential.
In the Men’s RS:X at this year’s ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne, there has been a dominant display by China, with a string of wins from Chuankun Shi, then Chunzhuang Liu and Zhengnan Fang filling the minor places. Today Liu has only an outside chance tomorrow of winning the Gold medal, needing to beat Shi by five places to win the Gold.
In the RS:X Women, ManJa Zheng who won the National Games, but then took some time out and didn't train for the Qingdao Sailing World Cup, has been also impressed winning almost all the races. Fellow Chinese sailors filled out all the top five positions. Zheng has a big lead ahead of Qiaoshan Weng, with ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao gold medallist Peina Chen third, such is the depth of the sailors. Those places are expected to be the final result for the event.
Kevin Burnham, who won 470 Olympic Gold in Athens in 2004, after taking silver in Barcelona 12 years before, is coaching the Chinese 470 squad.
He explains, 'The competition in the very large Chinese 470 squad is hot.
'I just started with the Chinese last year. We got rapid results in the few days before Miami OCR. Just by changing set up on the boats to those that I used when I won Gold in Athens.
'There was a big jump in speed, the girls were second and third and had the boom not broken the girl that was second, would have won. She went on to get third in the Worlds this year, this summer and the other one was sixth.
'No other country has a 40 boat 470 fleet racing twice a week, and we have seven teams in the elite squad. There will be a big Chinese presence on the Europe circuit next northern summer, Palma, Hyeres and onwards and by the end of the next season we should see another big jump in their level.'
At the ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne, the ever-growing successes from Chinese 470 sailors continue. A win in the 470 Men’s Medal race by Hao Lan and Chao Wang, took them to fourth overall behind the dominant, Belcher and Ryan.
Then in the 470 Women’s, an impressive Gold Medal to Shasha Gao and Haiyan Chao, with a third place to Nan Zhang and Yixiao Lv.
Melbourne has been ideal for the National team which is based in Haikou, Hainan province, not only being closer in terms of distance and of course time, but also in conditions similar to European regattas.
The Chinese are not big fans of cold weather and much prefer light winds. So if light conditions prevail in Rio, then perhaps China will be set to eclipse their performance in the strong wind venue of Weymouth.
Overall with the injection of good coaching, large numbers of sailors and spending power, looking ahead to Japan 2020, it’s clear that China will be a major power at World Cup and Olympic level.
The ISAF Sailing World Cup in Melbourne expects to welcome ever-stronger Chinese and Asian nation teams in the years to come.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne website
by ISAF Sailing World Cup - Event Media
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11:02 AM Sun 8 Dec 2013GMT
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