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Gladwell's Line: Gambling in Genoa..Aceing the Optimists

by Richard Gladwell, 28 Apr 05:07 PDT 29 April 2019
Australia SailGP Team has their first practice for the San Francisco SailGP Event 2 © Sam Greenfield for SailGP

The recently concluded Sailing World Cup Genoa was notable for some very mixed results.

Matt Belcher (AUS), a seven-time World Champion in the 470 class, finished in double figures in the final standings for the first time since July 2016. In the Womens 49erFX, the 2016 Olympic Silver medalists and former world champions, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech finished 23rd overall.

Spain's Iker Martinez, often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, won the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull.

Like many others, the NZL Sailing Team should have come away from the Sailing World Cup Genoa, moderately pleased with some results, but frustrated with several others.

They would not be alone in their frustration, the strongest wind of the series blew on the final leg of the Mens 470 Medal Race, reaching a 10kts, and getting the 470 Mens Medal Race fleet on the plane for the first time in the regatta.

Once again, the need was underlined to stage sailing regattas in venues with good wind. Failure to do so means postponed and lost races, the inability to maintain a broadcast schedule of the racing, and a huge variation in results. World Sailing and others need to realise that these are serious events for the sailors, often with performance-based grant money and/or Olympic selection decisions being made on the basis of results of a drifting match.

Plus the driftathons make very boring TV, with frequent recourse to replays from events where they do actually have good winds on a consistent basis.

It is claimed that the Genoa Jib (the forerunner to the Code Zero and able to be carried upwind) was conceived in Genoa, Italy. After watching the racing in the Sailing World Cup Genoa, one could easily understand the necessity for such a sail. The word on the Olympic Rialto is that this year will be the last for the Sailing World Cup in all its machinations that have never worked.

Rowing too has a World Cup. Rowers being pragmatists, they opted for the achievement of the possible - which was to have a tight circuit of regattas all based in central Europe which lead into the World Championships.

For all European based rowing events, it is possible to drive to the venues. For those outside Europe, the drill is to fly into the first regatta and then drive to the other two. The timeframes are such that it is possible to mix a training camp or two between World Cup events, and then compete in a regatta (which like Sailing is typically a five or six-day event, depending on entries).

But we digress.

Emerging with big smiles from the Genoa regatta were the New Zealand Mens 470 crew of Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox, who turned around an indifferent series of results early in the regatta with three good countable single digit places in the tail-end of the regatta. All the other crews in the Mens 470 turned in at least one and sometimes two double-digit scores.

To underline the topsy-turvy regatta that was SWC Genoa, who would have thought that the winner of the Mens 470 would be counting 18th and 20th places in their pointscore - and discarding a 33rd?

Most of the New Zealand interest was in the 49er class where Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are victims of their own success. While they have had a foray into the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, the absence of the cat has allowed the proverbial mice to play.

The America's Cup champions have returned to the 49er to find that in their absence the class has already been qualified for NZ for the 2020 Olympics. And there are at least four crews in the viewfinder for that spot, and that at this stage of the Olympic cycle, their credentials over the past 24 months in the 49er are no better than the other three or so crews.

That means there is internal competition between the crews to achieve selection, which is rare in the New Zealand Olympic sailing context and must be managed carefully. A big part of New Zealand's sailing success has occurred when crews have all worked together in a class and been open within the group with changes they have made, and whether it has been a positive one or not.

In Genoa, for all the talk about a lack of wind, Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie won the Silver medal by a margin of six points from third-placed Burling and Tuke, with the Gilmour brothers (AUS) winning the Gold medal just four points ahead of the Kiwis.

Also putting in a solid performance is the 49er combination of Josh Porebski and Trent Rippey who opened strongly at Aarhus, last August, lying third in the regatta after two days of racing behind Logan Dunning beck and Oscar Gunn wearing the yellow jersey of the points table leaders.

It would have been unthinkable post-Rio, that Burling and Tuke could have been edged out of the Mens 49er spot for Tokyo 2020, but if an objective selection system is in place - then that outcome is a distinct possibility.

Of course, having a hot competitive fleet at home is an Olympic Godsend. Look at the Brits in the Finn over the past couple of decades. Five Olympic Gold Medals on the trot and 11 world championship titles in a 20 year period is "owning" an Olympic event. Will that prove to be the case with New Zealand and the 49er class?

Adding to the intensity of the 49er's Olympic buildup, the 2019 World Championships is coming up in Auckland in November-December 2019. It is hard to believe that regatta will not be a key selection event for the Kiwi 49er slot in Tokyo. As mentioned, Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn qualified New Zealand, as the fourth qualifier for the 2020 Olympics with their seventh place in the 2018 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in August 2018.

Optimist Comeback

The 2019 Toyota NZ Optimist National Championships concluded on Wednesday at Murrays Bay. Racing aside it was another superbly organised regatta, despite a lack of co-operation from the wind on the penultimate day.

George Lee Ross (Wakatere) turned in an outstanding performance on the final day of the regatta winning all four races and defending not only his New Zealand title, but also winning the Open title and turning the tables on top Australian sailor, Daniel Links - who had been on top of the leaderboard from the first day of the regatta. Links was defending his New Zealand open title, won last year at Queen Charlotte YC, with Lee Ross placing third in the Open section of that regatta, and winning the NZ [resident] Championship.

It seems that every year or two, one club seems to dominate, depending on how their Junior program is performing. This year it seemed to be Wakatere BC's turn on top.

George Lee Ross was top placed sailor in the Gold fleet his Wakatere clubmates Harrison Loretz and Valentine Kayrouz placed fourth and sixth respectively in the Open Championship. Tom Rebbeck (Wakatere) won the Silver fleet, with George Pilkington (Wakatere) in second overall. Josh Hilder (Wakatere) won the Bronze fleet.

Nelson Meacham (Wakatere) won the Green fleet with Tessa Clinton (Wakatere) finishing second and top girl in the Green fleet. 10-year-old Wiliam Mason (Wakatere) qualified for the Silver fleet, finishing midway in the 47-boat fleet. There were four other 10-year-olds in the Bronze fleet. Youngest sailor was eight year old Nathan Soper (Charteris Bay) who turned in an excellent performance finishing 41st out of the 62 boat Green fleet (and beating all the 9yr olds).

With all the debate about Gender Equality in Olympic sailing, the statistics show that 40% of the Green fleet were female sailors, it drops to 26% across the 142 sailors in the Open - Gold, Silver and Bronze fleets. The Gender balance is just 12.7% in the Gold fleet.

Sailors from eight countries (New Zealand, Australian, French Polynesia, China, Great Britain, USA, Poland and Chile) competed in the Toyota sponsored series, an excellent level of support - which can hopefully be carried over into other dinghy classes as the sailors move out of Optimists.

However the retention of female sailors, at a junior level, remains very much a work in progress, if indeed it has been started at all.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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