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Gladwell's Line: 2018 Youth Worlds success but what of 2024?

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 30 Jul 19:21 PDT 31 July 2018
Is World Sailing going in a different direction from the Sailors? A 78kg 16 year old World Youth Singlehanded Champion is almost too heavy to be competitive in the 2024 Olympic Event/Class mix. © Jen Edney / World Sailing

The NZL Sailing Foundation backed Youth team, was one of several which turned in an impressive performance at last week's Youth Sailing World Championship in Corpus Christi, Texas.

To recap, the New Zealand team which competed in all nine events and finished second overall in the Nations Trophy. Individually the team won four medals - with Josh Armit joining an illustrious group of sailors who have won a Gold medal at the Youth Worlds in a singlehanded event.

Those singlehanded winners include Russell Coutts, Dean Barker, Ben Ainslie, Stu Bannatyne and Robert Scheidt. You can see the full medalist list by clicking here

Claimed to be the best ever performance in a Youth Worlds, with four medals won including Armit's Gold, it matched the previous best of four medals in 2015 at the controversial worlds at Langkawi, Malaysia - however there, Gold was not among them.

New Zealand has won the Nations Trophy twice in 2002 and 1994. The Nations Trophy is widely regarded as a current litmus test of youth sailing talent and development program, and maybe a predictor of Olympic strength and performance two Olympic cycles down the track.

To many, the performance in the Nations Trophy is more important than the Medal count - were a few stars can easily overshadow the overall team performance. Second overall in the Nations Trophy is a big jump from 9th in 2017 and 8th in 2016 in Auckland.

By any measure, the New Zealand team and Nations Trophy winners, USA, have turned in an outstanding performance in what is a relatively short and difficult regatta.

Even better was the way the NZ team was able to lift after a mediocre first day. It is very hard to win a regatta, particularly a Youth Worlds on the first day, but it is quite simple to lose it. New Zealand had an adequate opening day, but then started to lift, and also were consistent. USA got off to a fast start and stayed in front.

The USA and Kiwis were helped in this regard by the wind at Corpus Christi, which was moderate to fresh - without the light-air crapshoots that so often mar a regatta.

Several of the New Zealand team were returning for their second or third Youth Worlds, and maybe that layer of experience gave some maturity and focus to the team.

The top performance came from Josh Armit, winning the Gold Medal in the Mens Laser Radial at the age of just 16 years. It was also his second Youth Worlds, having placed fifth the year before - also in the Laser Radial.

Outwardly, New Zealand, as are several other nations, appear to be in good shape for talent moving up onto the 2024 Olympic frontline.

But World Sailing has seven of the ten classes flagged for possible to change for the 2024 Olympics at Paris/Marseille, and the current Youth class progression which works nicely with the Olympic lineup, is set to be shredded.

Some will argue that despite the equipment changes which look likely, the events themselves will not change - there will be a change of class, and already we have seen three classes short-listed to go against the Laser and Laser Radial.

The stunning point of the Olympic class selection trainwreck is that at just 16 years old and 78kg, the current World Youth Champion is bordering on the upper end of the weight limit for the 2024 Olympic class options. If that bodyweight is correct then he has Finn sailor written all over him, backed up by some excellent genetics.

We know the upper weight limit for the Laser is around 80kg maybe 83kg. The minimum for Finn cuts in at 85kg, but few expect that class to survive a World Sailing Evaluation Trial process.

Having spent their sailing careers in singlehanders, the male and female Laser sailors are unlikely to switch to Kiteboarding, if indeed that sport does make the 2024 Olympics as a Sailing event. And who knows what shape the 2024 Olympic Windsurfer event will take? Will it be a regatta board or a wave jumping and tricks judged competition?

While the 2024 Olympic focus has been on achieving equal numbers of events/medal opportunities and participation, the damage to the Men's side of the regatta appears to be just regarded as collateral damage to which a shrug of the shoulders and look the other way seems the uncaring World Sailing response. They are more focussed on getting the gender algebra resolved, and if it takes a few make-up events to do so - then that's tough.

A quick look through the entry list for the Youth Worlds shows that most of the fleet have similar but different issues to Armit.

The Mens and Womens 420 crews must split, if they are going to sail in the Mixed Double hander event. If their aspirations lie in the 49er/49erFX, then why sail the 420? There will be similar questions once the next round of Olympic class decisions are made at the Annual Conference held in Sarasota, Florida come November.

Josh Armit is the third generation of a sailing dynasty.

His grandfather Tony was one of the first two New Zealanders to sail around the world. At just 18 years old he commissioned Bert Woollacott to design a 28fter, which he built himself and then set off in 1954 on what would be a three-year voyage. You can read the full story by clicking here

Josh's father Leith is best known as a long time OK Dinghy sailor, placing second in his first World OK Championship (in opene competition) at the age of 17 years old, and going on to win four World titles and being awarded what is now known as the New Zealand Sailor of the Year in 1985. Leith was also an accomplished Finn sailor travelling as a reserve to John Cutler in the 1988 Olympics where Cutler won the Bronze medal.

Josh is following some big footsteps and has already achieved a feat that sits comfortably with his forebears, given the constraints of their respective eras.

Have a look at his facebook page by clicking here facebook.com/josharmitsailing

Normally Josh and the other Youth World medalists would be making plans for their Olympic futures if not in 2020 then certainly in 2024. But the way matters stand their Olympic chances rest on the outcome of a fraught administrative process.

The obvious move for the bigger male Youth sailors is to leave the Olympics of 2024 to the lightweight men and female sailors, and instead set their sights on the America's Cup, or the upcoming 2021 Round the World race and look for a Youth berth as a start of their professional sailing career.

Small wonder that the various youth match racing programs run by the keelboat clubs around the world are so popular, and offering international competition on a stable circuit. Ironically one such regatta, the Governor's Cup, was sailed at the Balboa Yacht Club, Calif., at the same time as the Youth Worlds were being staged in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the opposite US coast.

The West Coast/East Coat divide underlined the stand-alone strength of the Youth Programs..

This story first appeared as an Editorial in Sail-World NZ's weekly newsletter to get your copy and have all the latest news from New Zealand and around the World go to sail-world.com/NZ/newsletter and click on Newsletter and Subscribe. You can see previous newsletters by clicking on Newsletter and then Archive from the drop-down menu.

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