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2024 Formula Kite World Championships - Preview

by Andy Rice 14 May 03:18 PDT 13-19 May, 2024
Jannis Maus's lucky charm which he has worn since he was 13 years old - 2024 Formula Kite World Championships © IKA media/ Robert Hajduk

The 2024 Formula Kite World Championships are about to get under way in Hyères in the South of France. Taking place from 13 to 19 May, this is the last big regatta before kiteboarding makes its Olympic debut at Paris 2024 less than three months from now.

With foiling kiteboarding set to be the fastest of any Olympic sport this summer, these 35-plus knot athletes are working hard to be at their best for the biggest regatta of their lives. But in some ways it's harder to win a World Championship than an Olympic medal because the fleet is much bigger and some of the best in the world will be absent from the Games.

The Women: Kampman keen to keep winning

Jessie Kampman is a case in point. The French rider missed out on selection to the Olympics, beaten to the spot by the 2023 World Champion Lauriane Nolot in a fiercely fought French selection that also included Poema Newland. However on these same waters at the end of April in Hyères, Kampman came away from the Semaine Olympique Francaise with the gold medal, ahead of Britain's Ellie Aldridge in silver and Nolot with the bronze.

After making a heroic comeback from what was nearly a career-ending injury last season, Kampman has been more competitive than ever this year. With that said, the French rider admits her preparation for the Worlds has been limited. "I was always going to do this event," she smiled. "After all, this is where I live and I just really love kiting and this is a good opportunity to get back on the water. But I don't feel very prepared to be honest, and I think physically it's going to be hard again because I really haven't been training and I've lost a bit of weight. But then I don't have the pressure on me for this event and I just want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the kiting.

"It's going to be interesting watching the girls this week, the ones going to the Games. Everyone will want to be pushing hard, I don't think anyone's going to be lifting their foot off the gas."

Nolot says her focus is on enjoyment, despite the building pressure of representing France on home waters this summer at the Games. "I want to have great races with the girls, and of course I want to get a second world title, but maybe not as much as I wanted it last year for that first-time win," she said.

This is also an opportunity to experiment with different tactics and techniques. "I want to be a multi-tasker, try different things, work on different areas of the game. But I also just want to enjoy racing here where I live, to appreciate the support of our local fans out on boats and here on the beach, and all the kids that are coming to visit it us from local schools."

From further afield beyond Europe are serious contenders for the world title including Australia's Breiana Whitehead and the six-time World Champion Daniela Moroz from the USA.

But probably the most intriguing athlete to watch at this event will be Elena Lengwiler from Switzerland. At the Last Chance Regatta recently in Hyères, the rapidly improving Swiss rider swept the board and claimed one of the final remaining national spots for the Olympics.

Such has been her progress over the past few months, it's quite probable Lengwiler will be challenging for a medal at the Worlds. Nolot acknowledged the growing abilities of Lengwiler. "Elena is very fast in a straight line, but if she wins this year I think that's a bit too easy. We have to make it more complicated for her," she laughed.

The Men: Pushing Max to the Max

As for the men, the Worlds offer a final chance for the fleet to challenge Max Maeder on a competitive stage before they line up in July for the Games. The 17-year-old from Singapore has kept on getting better and better and has won most major events of recent times including last year's world title and this year's Europeans in Spain. Having dominated the Semaine Olympique Francaise in April, Maeder is clearly as at home with the conditions in Hyères as anywhere else.

For the men, this is a last chance regatta of another kind, because it's up to the likes of Slovenia's Toni Vodisek and France's Axel Mazella - respectively the silver and bronze medallists at the Semaine Olympique Francaise - to take the fight to Maeder and prove they are good enough to take the gold. Vodisek was the 2022 World Champion when he narrowly beat Maeder in Sardinia, and Mazella took gold at the Olympic Test Event last summer, so they both know what it takes to win at the highest level.

Maus ready to roar

Germany's Jannis Maus is still engaged in a trials for the German Olympic spot, his closest rival also being one of his best friends, Flo Gruber. Maus says the additional pressure of the trial doesn't really affect him. "I'm just focusing on myself, building on my recent results at other competitions." Would it be too much to believe he might be ready to win a Worlds? "I think it is always within reach. But also to be honest, Max [Maeder] is super, super strong. My goal is definitely to get to the final and hopefully maybe bring some points into the final. Then I think in the final, everything can happen. It's such tight racing on the last day."

Having grabbed his Olympic spot at the Last Chance Regatta just over two weeks ago, Connor Bainbridge finally has that monkey off his back. The British rider was looking forward to competing at these Worlds knowing he will be representing his country at Paris 2024. However, while training in Hyères last week with Maeder and pushing himself to the limit, Bainbridge crashed and ended up with carbon splinters in his leg. After completing surgery locally, Bainbridge has gone home to rest up and recover. It's a sad loss to the event but the British rider will be doing everything to make sure he is back and ready to compete at the Olympics in July.

Racing begins on 14 May, with the riders splitting into qualifying fleets for the first three days of the six-day competition. The final two days will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook.

More info at www.kiteclasses.org.

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