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"Cinderella" Alison clinches gold at the 2023 Allianz Sailing World Championships

by World Sailing 16 Aug 2023 13:22 PDT 10-20 August 2023

An historic para sailing regatta came to a close in dramatic fashion as Betsy Alison brought down the curtain in Braassemermeer to claim Allianz Sailing World Championship gold.

This was the first time that para events were part of the Sailing World Championships and the competition delivered across the three classes.

Alison, a five-time Rolex Sailor of the Year, only came back from surgery in November, but held her nerve to take gold in the Women's Hansa 303, clinching the final race ahead of rival Olga Gornas-Grudzien.

Elsewhere, Piotr Cichocki was victorious in the Men's Hansa 303, Heiko Kroger secured a tenth world title in the 2.4m Norlin OD and Ange Margaron and Olivier Ducruix won the RS Venture Connect.

Cichocki's gold, combined with Gornas-Grudzien's silver, helped Poland claim the Nations Bowl for the most successful nation in the para sailing.

Women's Hansa 303

The most intriguing battle on the final day of competition was in the Women's Hansa 303 where Betsy Alison (USA) held a precarious one-point lead over Olga Gornas-Grudzien (POL).

That effectively made it a straight shoot-out for gold, and Alison delivered in the biggest moment.

For the American, who needed surgery to remove a cancerous tumour on her hip last November, it has been a remarkable turnaround.

She said: "Overall, I was pretty calm going into today because I knew my grasp of things was pretty strong. I'm super happy that I was able to win that last race.

"It's a Cinderella story for me after having surgery in November, just nine months out, not knowing if I would make it here. I decided back in March, but I wasn't sure that physically I would be able to handle the travel and make it here.

"To come out and have some great racing on the race course, it's the first time I've done a regatta in well over 18 months so to come back and realise you still have a little bit of it in you is really sweet."

Gornas-Grudzien could only manage second in the race, taking silver overall, while Alison Weatherly (AUS) did just enough to take the bronze with her fourth-place finish, edging out Valia Galdi (ITA) and Violeta del Reino del Valle (ESP).

Men's Hansa 303

Piotr Cichocki (POL) signed off in style in the Men's Hansa 303 with a fifth consecutive bullet to confirm his position as the top dog in the event.

Assured of gold before the start of racing, Cichocki did not let up, while closest rival Takumi Niwa (JPN) finished fifth with his silver medal also in the bag already.

Cichocki said: "I'm very, very happy. My family and friends telephoned me and said 'Oh wow, wow, Piotr, it's super'!

"I love sailing, it's my life."

The intrigue came in the race for bronze, with Joao Pinto (POR) taking it relatively comfortably in the end.

A third-place finish meant that he could not be overhauled, finishing seven points clear of Rory McKinna (GBR) and Jens Kroker (GER).

2.4m Norlin OD

Heiko Kroger (GER) clinched a tenth world title on Monday and was aware of the ramifications of this success at the first integrated Sailing World Championships.

Having finished either first or second in every race of the regatta, the German took a back seat on the final day, coming home in fifth as Italian duo Antonio Squizzato and Davide di Maria battled for the win.

It was Squizzato who took the honours on the day, to clinch bronze while Di Maria took second to go with his silver medal.

But while he finished a little further back in the final race, Kroger has lost none of his appetite for success.

He said: "It was a perfect championship, we had great weather and challenging conditions, especially today, it was really hard.

"Maybe people expected this a bit but it's always great to win a World Championship. It's mostly very important for para sailing and the sport. We are here and we are sailing with lots of camera coverage and PR. For para sailing, it helps people think about 'why not sailing?'

"Sailing is more than a sport and more than a hobby. It's a part of my life, I've been sailing for over 50 years now. Competition is a major part of sailing for me, I don't like cruising around. It's the competition and I will hope to stay in this business for many more years, I hope."

RS Venture Connect

Ange Margaron and Olivier Ducruix (FRA) were beaten for only the third time in ten races but had already wrapped up gold in the RS Venture Connect.

The French duo had won the first six races to cement their position at the top of the leaderboard, meaning that the final day of action decided the silver and bronze.

On the final day, it was Greece's Vasileios Christoforou and Theodoros Alexas who pipped Margaron and Ducruix, but that did not take any shine off their gold medal.

Margaron said: "We are very happy."

Ducruix added: "We wanted to do it and now that we have, we are so happy. It's fabulous. It's incredible.

"I think that the work we have done this year and last year has made us better and better and so we both felt very good. We knew where the speed was good and Ange really feels the wind and sees where it is on the water. The strategy that Ange came up with was fabulous."

Pedro Reis and Guilherme Ribeiro (POR) were in the strongest position, and despite finishing eighth in the blue fleet, that was enough for silver.

Meanwhile, Canada's John McRoberts and Scott Lutes finished fourth, earning them bronze, just a point back from the Portuguese pair.

Find out more, including full results, at thehague2023.sailing.org

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