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World's best sailors prepare for Tokyo 2020 on Australian waters

by Michael Martin 4 Dec 2018 19:54 PST 4-9 December 2018
Belcher and Ryan Sailing World Cup at Enoshima, Japan © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

With Sail Sydney currently under way (4 – 9 December 2018) and one week to go to Sail Melbourne (13 – 16 December 2018), Australia's best Olympic, Youth and Open class sailors will find out exactly where they stand as they prepare to be joined by some of the world's best at these landmark regattas.

The Olympic 470 class will feature one of the strongest fleets at both events, with four of the current World's top ten ranked crews racing in a mixed fleet at both events.

Australia's Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalists and current World #1 Mat Belcher and Will Ryan will be spearheading the fleet, which includes sailors from seven countries and will feature Spanish 2018 World Championships bronze medalists Jordi Xammar Hernandez and Nicolás Rodrigues Garcí-Paz.

Belcher and Ryan recently finished second at the Sailing World Cup event at the Olympic venue in Enoshima, Japan, and are looking forward to racing the internationals on home waters.

"Since Japan, Mat and I have not sailed the 470 very much, but we are fortunate to have these events to keep us in the boat, and to have some internationals to sail against is a bonus. With most of them having done quite a lot of sailing these past months, we will likely be on the back foot, but it will be a good environment for us to try to close the gap," Ryan said about the events ahead.

While Belcher and Ryan are Australia's top ranked men's 470 crew (securing the 2020 Olympic 470 spot for Australia at the 2018 World Sailing Championships in finishing fifth), for many sailors the next year in the lead up to Tokyo 2020 will all be about securing Olympic qualification as well as the top spot in their country.

Germany is one of the countries, where the 470 crews are still vying for Olympic qualification as well as selection. Being able to train in Australia and race against some of the world's best crews will be key as they prepare for Tokyo 2020.

Germany will be represented by one boat in both the women's and men's 470 at Sail Sydney and Sail Melbourne, and they are looking forward to making the most of Australia's summer.

"It's about hours on the water in good conditions for us. The 2019 season is going to be crucial for the girls' and our Olympic campaigns, so it's good to have two very competitive regattas in wintertime. It's a big advantage to race in warm conditions instead of doing a few races in freezing weather back home. Plus it's a good chance for us to race and learn from some of the best teams in the world. That's why we came here and the events are more like testing and training races, which is very important for us at this stage." Philipp Autenrieth said.

Autenrieth is sailing the 470 with skipper Simon Diesch and with the pair currently ranked 18th in the world and another German crew one spot ahead of them, it will all come down to next year's racing for them.

They are joined in Australia by German Sailing Team members Frederike Loewe and Anna Markfort, who are the current top ranked German crew in the women's 470 world rankings at 13th, and most recently finished sixth at the Sailing World Cup round 1 in Enoshima.

It is the first time in Australia for both crews and they have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and opportunity so far.

"We've been in Australia for two weeks now and it's been great. It's our first time in Australia so we were pretty excited to be here. The sailing conditions are great and it's good to escape the German winter in order to get some productive sailing sessions in. The people we have met so far have been very welcoming and friendly so that just makes our time here even better," German skipper Frederike Loewe said.

With Australia a fair distance away and logistics of boat transports tricky, the trip was made possible with the help of Australia's 470 sailors.

"The whole "Winter in Australia" idea started off over a brunch with Mat Belcher in the European summer when we talked about our plans for the winter. Mat has been great organising the training and boats the German boys and for us so it was an easy decision to travel all the way to the other side of the world," Loewe explained.

Belcher is married to former German Olympic sailor Friederike Belcher who competed in the women's 470 at the London 2012 Games, and with Hamburg his base when competing in Europe the German-Australian 470 relations are strong.

"We cannot thank Mat (Belcher) enough for the chance he gave us by inviting us over to Australia and helping us with a boat. We really enjoy sailing here and it's great to have the chance to train and race here. The sailing conditions are awesome and compared to the 'winter trainings' we did back in Europe it really is perfect here," Phillip Autenrieth said.

The training environment and world-class competition added to the appeal for a prolonged summer season with all crews aiming to make the most of the just over 18 months left to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with Olympic qualifying up on the horizon for most of the sailors.

"We have been training with a great group of sailors from Australia, Japan, Switzerland and Spain. So both the training and the racing will provide us with good opportunities to improve our skills. We do all of the training and racing together with the boys, which is great and a pretty unique opportunity the 470 class provides in Olympic sailing," Loewe said.

"Both events will help us to work on the individual goals we have set in order to prepare for the 2019 season and our first trials for the Olympic qualification in the best possible way. This is a great opportunity and we believe it will help us achieve our goal to make it to the Olympics Games in Tokyo 2020."

Japan will also have two entries at both Sail Sydney and Sail Melbourne and with all eyes set on Tokyo 2020, the Japanese 470 program has grown significantly over the last few years.

Japan currently has three crews in the top ten of the 470 World Rankings, and three crews placed in the top four of Sailing World Cup 1 at the end of September. Daichi Takayama and Kimihiko Imamura finished third in Enoshima, while Kazuto Doi and Naoya Kimura finished fourth and both crews will be racing in Australia the next two weeks.

"We have at least four in the top ten and then we have one or two more. It's our key class and I am very happy that the boys are doing well. For me, it doesn't matter who wins, just as long as we are winning," Japanese Sailing team leader Aiko Saito said at the World Cup in Enoshima about his strong 470 program.

Mat Belcher and Will Ryan have had a close relationship with the Japan 470 sailing program, their sails are manufactured in Japan and they have spent a lot of time training together with the Japanese crews who are also regular competitors at the Australian international sailing events.

"The Japanese sailors are our closest competitors distance wise and it has been good to train together in the summer of each place, so it is fortunate to have the next Olympics in Tokyo," Will Ryan said.

While most of the international sailing takes place overseas, Ryan always enjoys coming back to race the Australia summer of sailing.

"These events are part of our summer sailing which has formed our foundation over the years of our junior sailing. Getting these regattas in, while the European fleets are struggling with winter, helps us start the next season strong," Ryan said. "Tokyo is still over 18 months away, but both Sail Sydney and Sail Melbourne are important to Victor (Kovalenko) and us as we are ambassadors for both."

Sail Sydney and Sail Melbourne International are World Sailing 100 points graded Olympic sailing events and as such are ranked as major international events on the World Sailing event calendar.

Olympic class racing will take place in Sydney from Tuesday through to Friday (4 – 7 December 2018). The Invited classes are scheduled for 7 – 9 December 2018.

Sail Melbourne racing starts next week on Thursday, 13 December with entries still open until midnight, December 12 2018.

For more information see the event websites here:

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