Olympic berth on the line for Japanese 49er sailors

The Japanese 49er team of Leo Takahashi and Ibu Koizumi need a top performance at the 2019 Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championship, December 3 – 8 on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, to qualify themselves for Tokyo 2020. 

Bearing this type of weight sounds like it would add pressure to a 20-year-old sailor, but sailors are like surfers, even at the highest level; not too much phases them and there’s a tendency to joke around. 

When asked whether he and Koizumi are at their peak physically going into the
world championship prequel, the Oceania Championship, Takahashi smiles
and says for a laugh: “I hope so….obviously we have been working on our finely-tuned athletic bodies for the last three years. For the last three months we’ve been doing some mental prep, and just working on our processes which has been important.”

Leo Takahashi was the youngest athlete to compete in the inaugural SailGP season. Photo Beau Outteridge for SailGP

Born in Atami, a seaside town in Japan, Takahashi started sailing at nine. Encouraged by his father, a member of the first Japanese America’s Cup Challenger, he quickly began to show talent. 

Though he’s been a member of the Japanese National Team since 2015 and following success at the junior level, was part of the 2017 Youth America’s Cup, representing Japan, Takashi’s hometown is Auckland. This year he was the youngest crew in the inaugural SailGP circuit, his Japan SailGP team finishing second to the Australians. 

Takashi and Koizumi, 23, and a second Japanese team, Shingen Furuya and Shinji Hachiyama, will contest the Royal Akarana Yacht Club hosted Oceania Championship, November 25 – 27, along with 90% of the World Championship fleet. The 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships will run in conjunction with the 49er skiff battle.

Leo Takahashi and Ibu Koizumi competing at the Hempel World Cup Series in Enoshima, Japan © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

Given the world championship is their last official selection event for the Japanese Sailing Team going to Tokyo 2020, the pair need every opportunity to line up in full race mode against the best teams in the world. Frontrunner for a gold medal result at the Hyundai World Championship is the hometown hero combination of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL). 

“The World Championship is the final official internal selection event for us,” Takahashi commented on the eve of the fight of his life. “We had part one in Palma, the Europeans in Weymouth, and this one finishes the process off.”

The idea of contesting an Olympic Games was something that first came to Takahashi in 2008 while watching the Kiwi rowers take out the gold medal. He wondered if he could be part of a sailing team that reached the same monumental sporting height.

Back in Japan Takahashi says the vibe is picking up. “Everyone’s really excited. Sailing’s not very known to the country but the whole city of Enoshima is getting excited; sailing is that city’s sport.”

Should they qualify, Takahashi says competing for the host nation would be a huge honour. “Being Japanese is a big thing for us; being able to go to the opening ceremony and have the country’s support would be pretty awesome.”

The skipper says their ideal forecast for the two events is a decent sou’wester, 20-25 knots so they can make the most of the power in their legs. “We’ve had good sou’westers for the last few weeks but we could get anything really in December.”

Takahashi and Koizumi competing on home waters at the Tokyo 2020 official test event. © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

New Zealand based international host broadcaster SidelineApp is offering free live and on demand streaming for the Oceanias and a special subscription price on its World Championship coverage up until November 30. Thereafter the price is 14.95 euros. Coverage includes tracking, 2D and 3D gfx, commentary with analysts and sailing experts, special guests and interviews from the sailing world. 

Racing coverage, with Jesse Tuke as chief commentator, is due to begin at the following times via 49er.org/live.
NZDT – 10:00am Monday 25th
CET – 10:00pm Sunday 24th
ET – 4:00pm Sunday 24th

Users need to create a Sideline account to access the coverage.

Reproduced courtesy of SidelineApp

Join membership

Join the Elite Community of 49er Sailors and Fans