As Europe and especially Belgium reels from another terror incident on home soil, small solace can be found in their countrymen claiming a long sought after prize of Olympic inclusion in the 49er. World Sailing Announced today that due to a lack of entries from Africa in the 49er nor 49erFX in the Princess Sofia Trophy Regatta, the allotted place passes to the 5th placed nations from the 2015 World Championship in Buenos Aires, Belgium in the case of 49er and Ireland in the case of the 49erFX. Here is a video that explains Olympic Qualifying for Rio
Belgium has long sought a place at the games in the 49er, campaigning since the 2008 quadrennial. They had a fantastic qualifying in Buenos Aires, grabbing gold fleet berths, but were unable to claim the top 4 spots already allocated but assigned at a hugely high level to only the top 12 overall at that regatta to date. By finishing as 5th country and 19th overall, Belgium is the last of the Gold Fleet teams from Buenos Aires to grab an Olympic Berth as Japan, who finished 22nd grabbed their spot at the recent Asian qualifier.
Belgium has two teams vying for their national berth. The veteran, Yannick Lefèbvre with new crew Tom Pelsmaekers will battle with relative newcomers the Slap brothers, Levi and Max. These two teams have been neck and neck with regard to results over the past 12 months so either could end up winning the spot to Rio.
In the 49erFX, it’s fantastic news for the Irish crew, just after St. Patrick’s Day. Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey have been some of the hardest workers on circuit since the 49erFX became an Olympic boat and missed previous qualification in Buenos Aires by happen-stance and the smallest of margins. The duo sat in the third country spot after racing on the final day of the 2015 World Championship but lost a protest from a boat on boat incident against the Canadians, also vying for Olympic selection, pushing them down to 5th country. From elation to heartbreak, made worse by how close the standings were and jumping down to 5th, leaving Norway to grab the 4th spot already when no further teams from Oceania pursued the 49erFX.
As the sole Irish team, Andrea and Saskia can now book their tickets to Brazil. It’s been a long ride to Olympic inclusion for Andrea, who raced radials for GBR for a number of years before changing allegiances to Ireland and committing to the skiff. Saskia is in her first Olympic campaign, but has been addicted to skiffs for a while now first making fame as Skiff Chicks Racing in the Aussie 18 circuit, becoming the first wave of all female teams in the legendary Sydney Harbour skiffs.
The inclusion of two more European teams opens the door of hope just a bit wider for many nations ahead of the 47th Princess Sofia Trophy regatta which starts on March 28th. There is only a single place remaining in each of the 49er and 49erFX events and only European teams are eligible. The stress level during Olympic qualifiers is magnified by a huge margin, and this slight bit of relief will be welcome news to all teams vying for such coveted spots.
The 49er favourites must be the Swedes, who have had a number of teams put in fantastic performances all quadrennial long. To date, however, the Swedes have faltered at the recent World championships and have not placed a single team into gold fleet yet. That leaves the door open for Greece, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, and Russia to have a great regatta and emerge on top. There are large volumes of teams trying to claim these critical spots so qualifying will be quite manic. Between the 6 European nations remaining they are sending 18 teams to race.
In the 49erFX the battle will also be fierce. Austria, Croatia, Finland and Russia are the teams battling for the final spot. Unlike the 49er there will only be one fleet of boats as no qualifying is necessary so the nerves will be up at full blast all week. Based on recent form any of the teams could claim the spot, so we’ll have to see what happens on the race course.
It had been thought that neither spot would be available, since a team from South Africa had been competing all quad for the spot and two teams from Algeria made an attempt at competing after being eliminated in the 470. The South African team split up and the Algerians never made it to the start line.
Fortunately for skiff sailng fans, SAP Sailing continues to support our program of top skiff races and there will be tracking of the 49er and 49erFX racing for the final three days of the event. Links will be available through 49er.org and the regatta website. The teams will head from Palma to Barcelona immediately following racing for the 2016 European Championship with racing beginning on April 11th.