A fleet of 116 sailors from 31 nations have gathered in Melbourne, Australia, to challenge for the last remaining World Championship titles of this Olympic cycle before heading to Tokyo 2020. The event is being hosted by Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club, located on the south side of Port Philip Bay, in what has to be one of the most idyllic venues that the RS:X Class has visited in its time as the Olympic Windsurfer Class.[more]

But before racing can take place there is the small matter of getting the sailors equipment inspected, registration completed and the final few pre-event tweaks and checks to the equipment and bodies to ensure that both are in optimum form going into racing which will start tomorrow. Todays practice race was also successfully held with seamless on shore support and on water race management, the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club providing an experienced and friendly group of volunteers to support the event.

Looking ahead to the racing, the ambitions of those coming into this event will vary as wildly as the wind shifts out on the race course. There are some lucky sailors walking around the boat park, looking mildly smug, as their country qualification and personal selection to Tokyo 2020 have been secured. The pressure for them on this event is more or less “off”, and they are instead looking to meet their own personal goals – whether that is a podium position, getting into the medal race or a top 15 spot – personal ambitions rather than qualification requirements for the event.

Tom Squire from Great Britain is one such athlete who is safe in the knowledge that he is personally heading to Tokyo, but has set his own ambition for this event. Squires, “There are a lot of people trying to get selected for the Olympics here, working at their best and sailing at their best. My goal is to get a medal here, because statistically you increase your chances of medalling at the Olympics if you medal in the last year before the Olympics. I haven’t medalled yet so there is pressure on me to do that.”

Others in the fleet will have much more intense battles throughout the next five days of racing. There are Olympic qualification spots up for grabs as the event is the Oceania Olympic qualifier – with an antipodean battle on the cards between Australia and New Zealand in both the men and women fleets. The Australians have loaded the cards in their favour with 5 men and 2 women versus a lone New Zealander in both the men and women fleets. The highest ranked sailor at the end of the week will secure their country a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

There are also clashes between sailors from the same country, fighting to become the sailor that represents their nation in Tokyo – with only one sailor per country allowed to attend in each fleet, there are going to be some very disappointed sailors at the end of the regatta as their dreams are passed to a fellow compatriot instead. These World Championships will be the final athlete selection event for a number of countries such as Israel, Poland, France, Canada and the Netherlands.

For the reigning Olympic Champion, Dorian van Rijsselberghe from the Netherlands, you could be forgiven for thinking he would have a free pass to Tokyo 2020. But over the course of this cycle, his training partner and good friend, Kiran Badloe, has become an increasing challenge to the double Olympic medallist van Rijsselberghe to the extent that Badloe comes into this event as the reigning World Champion. The Dutch selectors having a big headache to try and resolve by the end of the week between two very close rivals but also closer friends.

The picture is very much the same in the women fleet with a number of countries using these championships to select their sailor. Stefania Elfutina from Russia does not need to worry about this though and is in the same comfortable position as Tom Squires and is guaranteed to go to Tokyo. “This event is very important for many countries for selection but for me, I will enjoy and try to do my best” said Elfutina.

Racing will start tomorrow from 1300 local time. The men will be racing in two fleets and will have two days of qualifying racing before splitting into gold and silver fleets for the following two days before the top ten break off to compete in the medal race. The women will be racing in a single fleet for four days before doing the same and splitting up for the medal race on Saturday.

Text: RS:X Class
Images: Caitlin Baxter