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An intriguing new chapter in the 470's Olympic history

by Andy Rice 16 Feb 13:37 PST 24 February - 3 March 2024
2020 Tokio Olympics © Int. 470 Class/Nikos Alevromytis

It's a week until the 470 World Championship begins in Palma, Mallorca. Taking place from 24 February to 3 March, 63 international teams are making final preparations before one of the most important regattas of their careers.

For a number of teams the Bay of Palma offers an opportunity to earn selection for their nation at the Olympic Games coming up later this summer in France. For others they still need to qualify the nation in the first place. There are Olympic qualifying spots being decided at the Worlds for Africa, South and North America, and one place for Europe.

Some good teams will be left behind, not quite able to make that final leap to the Games, but that's the brutal nature of elite sport. One thing that 470 crews can all agree on, they have one of the most level playing fields in high-level sailing.

While single manufacturer one-designs appear to offer the purest of all challenges, and it's true up to a point, there are strong arguments to show that open classes governed by a measurement rule in the end produce fairer competition.

Where there used to be a number of such measurement-rule classes in the Olympic line-up - the Finn, Tornado, Star, Soling, Flying Dutchman, among many others - the 470 is the only such boat in the 2024 edition of the Olympic Regatta. Sailors can choose from a range of hull manufacturers, mast builders and sailmakers to find the best combination to suit their size, weight and sailing style.

Equipment on the 470 is highly refined and there's not much to choose in boat speed between one brand of equipment and another. That's partly because of market forces - you either develop or die - and also because of the length of time that the 470 has been in existence as one of the most challenging dinghy classes in the world. The first World Championship took place in Bordeaux, France in 1970, and was won by the French brothers Yves and Hervé Carré.

The 470s' first Olympic appearance was at the Montreal Games in 1976 when the gold medal went to West Germany's Frank Hübner and Harro Bode. At first the 470 was an 'Open' Olympic class, where men and women were invited to compete against each other. However the reality was that the class was almost completely male, with notable exceptions such as Great Britain's Cathy Foster who with crew Pete Newlands won the last race of the 1984 Olympic Regatta at Long Beach in California to finish 7th overall.

From the 1988 Games onwards, however, men and women have competed in their separate 470 categories, with Allison Jolly and Lynne Jewell taking the first ever women's 470 Olympic gold in the huge seas of Pusan in Korea. The male and female categories persisted up to the most recent Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, when Great Britain's Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre took women's gold and Matt Belcher and Will Ryan won men's gold for Australia.

Since Tokyo the men's and women's sailors merged into the new setup, 470 Mixed, with men and women now competing together in the same boat. The big question everyone was asking was which way round would prove to be more effective on the race track? Female helm/ male crew, just like Foster and Newlands back in the day, or male helm/ female crew?

The question hasn't really been answered yet, or maybe it has, because evidence of the past two or three seasons suggests it doesn't seem to matter. Luise Wanser and Philipp Autenrieth from Germany dominated the 2022 Worlds in Israel to make a case for female/male combinations, yet the 2023 Worlds were dominated by another team, Japan's male/female combo, Keiju Okada and Miho Yoshioka. At the halfway point of last year's Worlds in The Hague the top 10 was occupied in equal measure by five and five of the different combinations.

Andreas Kosmatopoulos, a former 470 World Champion and five-time Olympic representative for Greece, is President of the International 470 Class. He is delighted how equally balanced between the genders the 470 Mixed has proven to be. "There is obviously an element of strength and fitness required in the 470 but it is primarily a game of athletic chess. It doesn't seem to matter who is on the rudder, who is steering the boat, what's more important is the way that the helm and crew function together as a team. So with 470 Mixed we have the perfect test for men and women."

Monday 26 February is practice race day and the end of registration and measurement. The first race of the Championship is scheduled for 1200 hours local time on Tuesday 27 February. After three days of Qualifying Races and two days of Gold Fleet the top 10 teams will race each other in the concluding Medal Race on the sixth and final day of competition, Sunday 3 March.

To get all the news, photos and updates from the racing, go to 470.org

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