The four-year period between Olympics goes quite rapidly, the start date for Tokyo 2020 is now just three and a quarter years away.
The Australian Sailing Team continued its podium performances at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and has a total of four golds and four silver medals at the last two Olympics and the challenge is to continue at that level.
After each Olympics, some sailors enjoy the success and decide to go again, others move on to other sailing endeavours, some crews aspire to be skippers, others change crew, others aspire to switch classes.
Australia has been fortunate that some key baton changes have often been smooth. The 470 class is a splendid example. In 2008 Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page won 470 Gold. Wilmot retired and training partner Mat Belcher took the tiller. Belcher and Page won the London 470 Gold medal, whereupon Page retired. Belcher then began campaigning intensively with his new crew and former training partner Will Ryan and the pairing sailed onto the Rio podium, taking the Silver medal.
While Rio 470 Men’s Silver Medallists Belcher and Ryan had sailed to victory at the World Cup Melbourne event, Hyeres was their first international event of the new quad and their impressive performance, winning the event with a day to spare was very encouraging for the whole team as they embark on the track to Tokyo.
Before leaving for Monaco for the 470 Europeans this morning Belcher commented ‘We want to show we are competitive on the international scene while we work hard in Australia to bring new sailors into our class. The long distance to Rio put a lot of strain on everyone in the last quad. But with Tokyo it is a lot easier to fly from Australia, with direct flights from the Gold Coast, so we are expecting to be able to run much of our campaign domestically.
‘It’s important that we all recognize the massive impact Victor Kovalenko has had on the Australian Olympic scene and particularly the 470’s. Back to 2000, with Tom King and Mark Turnbull, and Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell, in 2008 with Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson and with Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page, then Malcolm and I in 2012 and now myself and Will in 2016. Recognising that Will and I are working hard with Victor to establish a Queensland Gold Coast 470 Training base to ensure there is a legacy for the future.’
A relaxed Ryan added ‘Our Hyeres plan was to enjoy the racing again, meet some of the fresh faces in the fleet and to check our benchmark in the fleet in our current state of fitness to know if a different kind of campaign to another Olympics will allow us to challenge for the top spot.
‘Victor is obviously a key component in all of this and he set us a good program to build into this event. We are yet to see if we have the form and fitness levels to carry that through to later events in the year.
‘Donna White our team physio has been working hard to keep us in one piece for the event too. The Team has supported us a lot with Katie Culbert and Peter Conde helping give us the flexibility to combine our limited Olympic program sailing with some other things this year.
‘Hopefully everything will align for the best possible positioning in a little over three years’ time when it counts’.
Kovalenko, Australia’s Head Coach was smiling as he said ‘It was wonderful to watch all our very talented sailors in action. We are taking the first steps in a long road now’
Finishing third and fifth respectively in Hyeres, Laser sailors Matt Wearn and Rio Gold medallist Tom Burton lead the strong Australian Laser team, with Mitchell Kennedy unlucky to have missed the medal race and Jeremy O’Connell and Luke Elliott showing flashes of form.
Wearn said ‘We are privileged to have Michael Blackburn as our coach. He is so experienced. He is a man of few words but when he speaks we all listen.’
Burton added ‘ We are all going to push each other hard for the next three years and we will be better sailors for it.’
Finn sailor Oli Tweddell last year came second at this regatta behind team mate Jake Lilley, who as a result earned Rio selection. Lilley is currently in Bermuda sailing with the Artemis America’s Cup team but will return to the growing Finn squad in July in time to compete at the Finn Worlds.
Tweddell finished mid-fleet but expecting much improved results in the months ahead. He explains ‘I’ve been getting coaching from Rafa Truijillo (Finn 2004 Athens Silver medallist) and I can see what I need to work, just have to grab every opportunity to move up.’
In the 49er class a strong group of skiff pairings will sail for Australia in the next three years. First team to Europe this year were the Phillips brothers, Will and Sam. Will said today ‘We had some excellent results amongst the not so good, but lessons have been learned. Overall this trip was of huge benefit and we now expect to see much improved results over the balance of the year.’
Australian Sailing Team and Sailing Squad Program Manager Katie Culbert outlined the immediate plans for our sailors in the months ahead. ‘We are focusing domestically for the first half of this year for most of our Squads. Having said that the Radial Squad will be in Holland for Delta Lloyd, along with our Laser Squad. We will have two women’s crews at the 470 Euros (Carrie Smith/Amelia Catt and Nia Jerwood/Monique de Vries). Other members of the 470W Squad will likely head to Europe for Kiel and Worlds.
‘Key events are the Europeans and Worlds in most classes. Obviously with the new Nacra 17 boats coming out throughout the year there is little point in racing in Europe until they are available. The 49er FX Squad will head to Europe in July for the Euros and Worlds.’
Peter Conde, Australian Sailing’s High Performance Director said today ‘The Australian Sailing Team has sustained a high level of performance over the last few Olympics and to continue to achieve that we cannot do it by standing still. We must keep getting better and better and we must keep innovating and that’s the name of the game.
‘It’s a matter of pride that the Australian Institute of Sport ranks two summer sports with the strongest programs - sailing and swimming. So, we are one of two Summer Olympic sports that have retained their level of funding in Australia. There is always more you would like to be able to do; but we are pleased with the support that we are getting from the Australian Sports Commission and the AIS.
‘We are looking forward to Tokyo 2020, an Olympics close to our time zone and relatively easy logistically. The relationships between the Japanese Sailing Federation and Australian Sailing are strong. We have an exchange programme going on right down to our youth levels where our top youth sailors and coaches go to Japan every year for at least the last five years or so.
‘We have strengths with Rio Olympic medallists planning to continue to Tokyo 2020; and I am quietly confident that you will see a big lift in performance particularly in our women’s classes. We have some promising crews coming through our talent development process.
‘We are pleased with our overall progress and we are looking forward to having more Australians on the international scene in the next few months.’
Australian Sailing Team (AST) & Squad (ASS) at World Cup Series Hyeres 2017
Men’s Two Person Dinghy - 470M
Mathew Belcher (QLD/QAS) & Will Ryan (QLD/QAS) – AST: (10),3,3,1,2,3,1,1,1,1,1 – 1st
Men’s Skiff - 49er
Will & Sam Phillips (VIC/VIS) – AST: 21,21,19,8,(26),17,6,20,1,19,4,26 – 19th
Men’s One Person Dinghy (Heavyweight) - Finn
Oliver Tweddell (VIC/VIS) – AST: 21,15,15,19,12,20.9,(35),22,25 – 22nd
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Matt Wearn (WA/WAIS) – AST: 5,15,4,1,4,2,26,(45),4,5,6 – 3rd
Tom Burton (NSW/NSWIS) – AST: 4,5,8,6,(28),14,8,26,3,21,1 – 5th
Mitch Kennedy (QLD/QAS) – ASS: 11,28,26,4,21,24,4,6,18,8,(44) – 13th
Jeremy O'Connell (VIC/VIS) – ASS: 10,34,24,12,12,(61),44,1,13 – 16th
Luke Elliot (WA/WAIS) – ASS: 43,52,50,46,(61),7,45,35,7,3 – 36th
Follow the Australian Sailing Team via
RESULTS / ENTRIES
A full list of sailors registered to sail in Hyères is available to view here - http://manage2sail.com/en-US/event/0adf7bcd-01d0-4214-a295-bb0b9136999e#!/entries?classId=7a9662de-4565-41e3-9008-4025d3177d5e
Results will be available from Tuesday 25 April via the World Cup Series results centre here - http://www.sailing.org/worldcup/results/index.php
Live tracking and competitor's analytics will be available via SAP Sailing Analytics throughout the event here - http://swc2017-hyeres.sapsailing.com/