You’d be hard-pressed to find a more humble champion duo than Mat Belcher and Will Ryan. But even the modest Belcher admits that, in Japan, he and his crew are revered for their dominating record in the 470 class.
“We do get a lot of attention here, particularly given the history of the 470 in Japan,” Belcher said from Gamagori, where the reigning World Champions were competing in the World Cup Series opener.
“There’s a very strong support for this class and a very large participation throughout the country. So when we compete here in the national 470 events we are quite popular and, I suppose, it’s quite a big thing. It just shows the support for 470 in Japan and how strong it is.”
The Rio Silver medalists are in equal-second place behind Japanese pair Tetsuya Isozaki and Akira Takayanagi after three races at Gamagori, which is 275 kilometres west of Enoshima, where the 2020 Olympic sailing regatta will be staged. Light winds prevented racing in all classes on Thursday.
Japan boasts seven 470 crews ranked in the world’s top 25 men and nine in the top 100 women crews. Australia’s strength in 470 sailing has been unyielding for much of the past two decades, with coach Victor Kovalenko orchestrating five Gold medals and one Silver medal since Sydney 2000. Australia’s production line remains healthy, with Rio Olympians Carrie Smith and Jaime Ryan in the world top 10 and rising stars Nia Jerwood and Monique de Vries ranked 17th. They can all expect an unusual amount of public interest in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games.
Belcher said Japan’s special regard for 470s stems from a thorough system at university level.
“They’ve got a massive number of boats, they race at universities and there’s a strong history of people doing well at university level going on to the national team to represent Japan,” he said. “People follow those sailors right through.”
Added scrutiny won’t hinder Belcher, the experienced professional, or Ryan, whose development is gaining momentum.
“It’s nice for us to get back into Olympic planning,” Belcher said.
“Will’s been pretty flat out doing the World Match Racing tour and other events. I’ve just enjoyed having a little bit of a break. This event, for us, is about getting things back underway for our campaign.
“It’s nice to come back to Japan and get familiar again with the culture and what to expect, I guess, in three years’ time.”
Racing is expected to continue at Gamagori on Friday, with Tom Burton in third in the Laser class after four races and Mitch Kennedy in eighth. Smith and Ryan are placed eighth after three races in the 470W.
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