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Tokyo 2020 Olympics U.S. selection process, Tea Route update, Cup news

by David Schmidt 18 Feb 08:00 PST February 18, 2020
Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea, 49erFX World Championship Bronze Medalists and Tokyo 2020 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team athletes © Drew Malcolm

While the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (July 24-August 9) are still a ways over the horizon, the sailing world recently got additional clarity as to which teams will be flying the Stars and Stripes at this summer's Games as racing concluded at four world championship regattas that the U.S. team used as part of their athlete selection process.

Specifically, the 49er and 49er FX Worlds (February 9-15), as well as the Nacra 17 Worlds (February 9-16) unfurled on the waters of Port Phillip Bay, off of Melbourne, Australia, while the 2020 Laser Worlds (February 11-16) also played out just across this same body of water. Racing was tight in all classes, of course, and while the USA sailed away with a single bronze medal, five athletes were selected to represent the USA in three classes at this summer's Olympic regatta.

First, the hard-fought bronze medal. 49er FX sailors Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea were in close contention for third place with eight other teams, including fellow Americans Paris Henken and Anna Tobias, going into the regatta's final race. Despite taking a bullet in the regatta's penultimate race, Henken and Tobias' kite made contact with Roble and Shea near the leeward gate, forcing Henken and Tobias to perform a penalty turn.

This same breeze-on gate-rounding caused shake-ups across the fleet.

Roble and Shea leveraged their fellow Americans' mistake all the way to the finishing line, where they secured both the bronze medal for 2020 49er FX Worlds and their berths to this summer's Games. Henken and Tobias ultimately finished in seventh place at the regatta.

Impressively, this is the first time that a U.S.-flagged team has placed in the top three at a 49er FX Worlds.

"It's still totally surreal," said Roble in an official US Sailing press release. "Literally, it's the best day of my life. We're so happy. We've worked really hard to come to this point. We have a group of supporters that have made this dream possible for us. We wouldn't be standing on this podium without anyone who's been supporting us on and off the water. This is a massive team effort and we're really proud of it."

(N.B., the USA failed to qualify for this summer's Games in the 49er class at the class' 2019 Worlds, however, should another country forfeit their Olympic berth, Americans Nevin Snow and Dane Wilson, who finished this high-level regatta in 20th place, will be the country's representatives in this class.)

Meanwhile, in the Nacra 17 class, Americans Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis entered the Worlds with a 12-point lead in the U.S. selection process over fellow Americans Sarah Newberry and David Liebenberg, and they solidified this margin by taking a second-place finish in the regatta's final race. This great performance cinched up their berth to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"This is something I've dreamed of for a long time and I just can't believe it's real," said Weiss in an official team communication, adding that she and Gibbs have only been sailing together for a year. "We had so many learning moments and great takeaways this week that will really help us push and work hard all the way up to the Olympics. The real grind starts now!"

And at the 2020 Laser Worlds, American Charlie Buckingham finished in 18th place, beating out countryman Christopher Barnard, who finished in 30th place. Buckingham's best results were a second-place finish in race 11, a third-place finish in race four, and a fourth-place finish in race seven.

"I'm super happy and proud to be able to represent the U.S. again and honestly a bit relieved," said Buckingham (who also represented the USA at the Rio 2016 Olympics) in an official US Sailing communication. "Olympic selection is a big step towards the main goal. Now that I've achieved that, I can focus on the real thing. So, I'm relieved I can start focusing on the Games."

Racing begins on Sunday, February 23, at the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds, which will also be contested on the waters of Port Phillip Bay, and which will determine which American Laser Radial sailor gets to sail on to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Stay tuned for the latest news from the 2020 Laser Radial Worlds, as it becomes known.

Meanwhile, in offshore sailing news, skipper Francis Joyon and his four-person crew aboard the maxi trimaran IDEC Sport are attempting to best the standing record for the 15,000 nautical mile Tea Route, which stretches from Hong Kong to London, and which is currently held by skipper Giovanni Soldini and his crew aboard the Multi 70 trimaran Maserati.

As of this writing, Joyon and company are roughly 900 nautical miles from the finishing line and roughly 700 miles ahead of where Soldini and company were after this same amount of elapsed time, however the French-flagged IDEC Sport is currently contending with survival-sailing conditions that include 20-foot seas and squall-driven winds.

"The wind suddenly strengthens so quickly that sometimes we find ourselves with a bit too much sail up," said Joyon in an official team press release. "You then really have to hold on tight to the helm and wait for the squall to pass over while getting soaked in the heavy rain. In these conditions, and because of the sea state, we are between 20 and 30 percent below the full potential of the boat."

Provided that Joyon and company can keep IDEC Sport in one piece and sailing fast, they could finish as soon as this Wednesday (February 19), so be sure to stay up to date with the website for the latest news from the Tea Route, as it breaks.

And finally, in America's Cup news, the Defender (the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron) and the Challenger of Record (the Circolo Della Vela Sicilia) have agreed on the match conditions for the 36th America's Cup Match (March 6-15, 2021), as well as the regattas that lead up to this important contest, following an official mediation process that was administered by David Tillet (AUS), chairman of the America's Cup Arbitration panel.

According to official reports, the America's Cup match will be contested in winds ranging from 6.5 to 23 knots, while the Round Robins (January 15-24, 2021) and Repêchage Round (January 29-February 2, 2021) will be sailed in winds ranging from 6.5 knots to 21 knots. The Prada cup Final (February 13-22, 2021) will be raced in airs of 6.5 knots to 23 knots.

Sail-World congratulates all U.S. sailors who are bound for the 2020 Summer Games, and we raise our glasses to Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea for earning the country's first 49er FX World Championship medal. Job well-done!

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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