Notable Entries for Palma 2017
It’s Palma time again, and that means it’s the first chance to drool at sun soaked Mediterranean photos of the worlds best sailors, and those who wish to become them. Especially fun is Palma in the year after the games, as it’s the first large regatta where many of the top sailors will get back into the game. So let’s see who’s showing up, and why that’s notable.
The first thing we notice is there are some very deep squads. 6 Danes, 4 French, 4 Spanish, 7 Brits, 4 Germans, 4 Irish, 3 Dutch, and 4 Poles in the 49er.
The Danes… 6 teams and no Jonas Warrer, and no Allan Norreggaard… so the old man medalists are out of the way and a new generation is looking to replace them. The Danes have been one of the most successful nations in 49er since the start, taking medals in 2008 (Gold) and 2012 (Bronze) and then the leather medal in 2016. Jonas Warrer is off match racing and Allan is sailing Nacra, which means a whole new generation can fight to be the next great Danish skiff team!
3 Dutch – 4 Irish? Well, that’s a change! For the entire life of Olympic skiff sailing, Ireland and Holland have been committed 470 nations, ignoring the skiffs. Matt McGovern and Ryan Seaton have blazed a path in Ireland and they’ve split to form 2 teams, with 2 younger teams also in the mix. Of significance though, is that both Ireland and the Netherlands have decided to compete in skiffs now. The Netherlands sailing team is the most selective in the world, typically only supporting a handful of teams in any quad, but then supporting them to the max. Whether any of these new skiff teams earn that support, we do not know yet, but the Netherlands has also committed to a strong 49erFX transition squad from youth to senior sailing, so they should have a strong supply of excellent young talent to fill the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 berths in upcoming games!
These strong squads so early in a quad sets up classic Olympic scenarios, where national teams form and work together, but ultimately know they are all chasing a single prized Olympic berth. It takes talented coaches and a very long term approach from a nation to make these situations work well, and there is sure to be some drama along the way!
Mix and Match and Internal Strife
The most ambitious Olympic sailor of all time is back! Robert Scheidt shocked the sailing world when he decided to get back into the laser for Rio 2016 after the Star was removed. Many thought it was understandable for him to try and race in a home games, and many assumed at his age he wouldn’t be competitive in such a physical boat as the laser. Well, competitive he was, though he felt short of another medal. Well, he’s back, and he’s shocking again! He quietly started training with Brazilian crew Gabriel Borges through the winter, but he seems to like learning the skiff, and while we shouldn’t expect top results for at least a year, the true test will be if Robert’s ambition can lead him to put in the hours to learn all the new skills needed for a fast boat. If he puts in the time though, who would doubt his ceiling!
Another notable team from Brazil is Gabriel’s skipper from Rio 2016, Marco Grael. Marco is back to crewing, where he started his skiff career, and has brought over Carlos Robles who sailed for Spain last quad. This duo should be competitive from the get go, and if they can mesh as a team could become top contenders over time. Both sailors are top young talents, so we’ll see how they come together.
The Alonso brothers are back from Spain, and could now be the most senior members of the fleet. Also back are Diego Botin and Iago Marra, and these two teams had quite an off water battle for the Olympic berth after the Alonso’s won a Bronze at the 2015 Worlds and then match raced their countrymen back at the 2016 Worlds to win the berth mathematically, only to have their MNA launch another qualifier which they lost. All four sailors are complete gentlemen, but you can imagine there must be some bad blood there. In fleet racing, both should find themselves at the top of the fleet, so if they can avoid fixating on each other or not will be an interesting situation to follow.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell, who raced against each other for Rio 2016 berths have now teamed up and dominated Miami. They will be looking to win Palma having done a lot of training in Cadiz this winter. James Peters and Fynn Sterritt will need to emerge this quad from potential top sailors to top level competitors, as there should be little to slow Dylan and Stu down. A blast from the real past is Simon Hiscocks, 2000 Silver medalist and 2004 Bronze medalist is lining up as a skipper. He’s a guy who is more addicted to sailing than almost anyone else, and while he likely won’t rank at the top of the standings given his full time work schedule, it’s great to see a hero of the class stay involved.
On an individual basis, there are also plenty of interesting teams entering. The Lange Brothers return after a strong first games. Their father won gold in the Nacra and they were one of the fastest improving teams last quad ultimately finishing 7th at the games, the highest placing for a first quad team. They should be contenders for the podium all quad long.
Yannick Lefebrve and Tom Pelsmaekers, from Belgium, are back. This duo were the last to successfully form and Oympic parthership, coming together in 2016. They sailed well together from the start and now look to put in the long hours of training needed to compete, we’ll see how they do without the freshness of a new team and a games just around the corner.
For the first time since 2001, the feature Austrians are not Nico Delle Karth and Niko Resch. Ben Bildstein and David Hussl started training alongside their countrymen in 2013 and have had numerous outstanding performances and set backs. They’ve been training hard all winter with top finishes at both Melbourne and Miami, and will be competitive all quad long. The biggest question remaining from them is if they can put up top performances at top regattas?
From Poland, Lukas and Pawel are back after an eighth in Rio. They could have contended for the medals but the regatta didn’t quite go their way. Their long term training partners split, seeing Tommy retire, but Jake has picked up young skipper Prz who has been developing along the Junior ranks and team Poland should remain a force to Tokyo.
Swiss Olympians Sebastien Schneiter and Lucien Cujean are back, as you’d expect given their young age, and they have two other Swiss teams joining them. This is the largest Swiss contingent in recent memory and is driven by a strong national class association who are working hard to build Swiss skiff sailing.
The Swedish squad are back, and we can only hope their NOC, which blocked their participation from Rio, can pick up some of their Olympic spirit and give them quality support all the way to Tokyo.
It’s fantastic to see our friends from Oman return. Musab and Hashim are wonderful gentlemen and sailors, and had it not been for an unfortunate quirk of the qualificaiton procedure for Rio, they would have been Olympians. There are a lot of Asian teams working hard for Tokyo, but with the Japanese gaining an automatic entry there might be additional space for them, and given their early start, they have a fantastic chance.
In the 49erFX
Transplants All Over
Clearly, the strong sisterhood that’s developed within the 49erFX culture is getting known! A large number of top sailors have transplanted themselves into 49erFX racing. So lets look at who’s joining the fleet.
The headlining name is 2016 World Sailor of the Year, Hannah Mills, 470 Gold Medalist from Rio. Hannah has been a top 470 sailor for two quads and is looking for a new challenge. She’s taken a unique approach to starting her 49erFX campaign… without a partner. For now she’s sailing with 49er Olympian Alain Sign, meaning she’ll be working on her skills for the near term and look to pick up a crew later. With Alain as her crew, there’s a chance they could do really well in Hannah’s first regatta, so keep an eye out!
Palma is allowing male and mixed teams in the 49erFX this year, being a post Olympic year, to aid teams of all stripes get their campaigns going.
Another standout transfer is Nacra 17 Bronze medalist Tanja Frank, moving from crewing the Nacra to helming the 49erFX. She’s teamed up with Austrian crew Lorna Abicht and no doubt will be on a quick learning curve to start out.
Nicole Van Der Velden is on the opposite path as Tanja, moving from helming a Nacra 17 to a sixteen place finish in Rio to start crewing for Aruban Odile Van Aaholt. The duo are both young but have plenty of international experience and will have four years to build up a campaign.
Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey are both returning Olympians, the interesting part here is that Saskia has shifted over to racing for Team GB and abandoning Ireland after her skipper retired. Charlotte split with crew Sophie Ainsworth after an eighth place finish in London. Sophie has teamed up with Kate McGreggor though they are busy training down under and won’t be in Palma… so team GB is a jumble, and there is surely one more shoe to drop once Hannah looks to pick up a female crew.
Returning from Estonia are Kaitin Tammiste and Anna Maria Sepp, who were the last to qualify for Rio and were both teenagers at the games. They’re continuing on and will look to develop up the fleet over the next four years.
Returning from France is crew Aude Compan, but with skipper Sarah Steyaert retiring, she’s teamed up with former rival Julie Bossard. Julie spent a lot of time crewing last quad, but also has plenty of experience on the helm and they’ll be looking to get their project going.
German Olympians Vicky Jurcsok and Anika Llorenz are back and pushing straight through from their first games. They finished ninth in Rio and were probably a bit disappointed in that, but are charged up and getting ready for the new quad. They won the practice regatta.
Absences, Changes and Notes
Absent are all four of the girls tied heading into the Rio medal race. Clearly Palma is going to be a development regatta in 2017 rather than a top championship.
However, from Denmark we have a new team with 2016 Worlds Silver medalist Anne-Julie Schutt with a new crew, Iben Neilsby. Anne-Julie had been crewing for her sister, Maiken, for the chase to Rio, so she’s switched so skippering and will be working on a new project.
Check out the regatta photos all week long, starting on Monday, March 27th, and note the Theatre Style final on Saturday April 1st. The scoring for the Theatre Style will be single points added to the points scored during the week, unlike other reports that stated the weeks points won’t count. Some other classes are testing other final formats, so sailing fans can tune in to see what excitement is generated.
Of course, then there are the important contests… which team will have the most Instagram Followers by Tokyo 2020?
The 49er Class is sponsored by Spinnaker Watches, our official timekeeping partner.