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An interview with James Mitchell about the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds

by David Schmidt 19 Feb 08:00 PST February 21-28, 2020
Mara Stransky practices her downwind technique ahead of the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds © Image courtesy of Jon West

The Laser Radial made its Olympic debut as the Women’s One Person Dinghy on the waters off of Qingdao, China, during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. American Anna Tunnicliffe proudly took home the gold medal, and the popularity of this already-popular class spiked considerably given that the can-do dinghy offered a lane to Olympic greatness. Since then, competition levels, tactics and techniques have continued to evolve on the international stage, making a win at any Laser Radial World Championship a serious accomplishment for any sailor.

That said, the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds (February 21-28, 2020) are not just any world-championship regatta, as 2020 is also an Olympic year. And this, of course, places an added premium on all contestants, ranging from those sailors who are still seeking their Olympic berths (including the entire American Laser Radial squad) to those who are using this high-level regatta to speed check against their rivals.

In addition, while each country can only send one representative to the Olympics, at the Worlds, numerous sailors can fly the same Olympic code on their radially cut mainsail. This not only ensures a far bigger fleet, but it also means that the winner will have to prove herself against almost all of the world’s fastest Radial sailors.

If this sounds like a seriously stiff crux, welcome to one of this year’s most exciting One Design regattas.

The 2020 Laser Radial Worlds are being hosted by Sandringham Yacht Club, the Australian Laser Association and local community groups, and will be contested on the waters off of Melbourne, Australia. I checked in with James Mitchell, who serves as event chair of the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds, via email, to learn more about this world-championship regatta.

In thinking about the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds, what aspects of the regatta are you the most excited about?

Well, I’m a Radial sailor in the Great Grand Master category so for me watching the best Radial sailors in the world will be awesome.

In the ideal world, how many races will the RC try to conduct during the course of the event?

Twelve races total, two per day. Let’s hope we get the sea breezes and plenty of downwind action.

What percentage of the boats do you expect to be from Australia?

Well we know pretty clearly now– they are 19 Australians in the 111 confirmed entries. We expect the total entries to be around 120, so about 16 percent.

Do you have your eye on any pre-racing favorites? What about any dark horses?

Well as you would expect in an Olympic year, all the top ten ranked women will be here and it’s pretty hard to bet against that group. But you know, there has been a lot of excitement about the new crop of Aussies coming through the ranks over the las two years, so on familiar waters, who knows—we might see some upsets.

Given that 2020 is an Olympic year, do you think that competition levels will be higher than at the last few Laser Radial Worlds?

Well this is when everyone peaks, isn’t it. Some are still fighting for selection. Two, three, four and eight years of effort on the line….

Would I be correct in assuming that this will be a big-air regatta? Also, what kind of sea state should sailors expect to encounter?

There is a saying in Melbourne, “if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes”, so anything is possible. But this regatta will be held in the heart of summer and sea breezes are the expectation, nice surfing waves and warm temperatures.

The Finns recently wrapped up the Gold Cup here and they had mainly southerly’s with one day of strong northerlies on a 104 degree Fahrenheit day. Anything is possible.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

We have worked really closely with our hosts the Sandringham Yacht Club, the Australian Laser Association and local community groups to take practical steps to reduce the regatta impacts and use the events as a catalyst for change.

Too many initiatives to mention really but, for example, we have built a high-volume chilled water dispenser to encourage the use of refillable water containers, banned single use plastic bottles and straws, run educational campaigns with local primary schools and had the local harbor cleaned up.

We have some more announcements coming on that front, too.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

You can’t run these events without financial support. The Victorian and Australian Governments have recognized the economic stimulus this regatta will generate, the healthy lifestyle it promotes, and the gender neutrality of our sport and class.

Melbourne is passionate about sport and loves hosting the international sporting community.

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