49er and 49erFX Worlds: The Top Are on Top

49er Worlds continue in Argentina. Here's who to keep an eye on as racing comes to it's conclusion.

The gold fleets have been determined at the 49er and 49er FX World Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where 110 teams from 33 countries are competing for the titles. Also at stake are three Olympic qualification slots. So far, 10 teams have qualified their countries for the Olympics, plus the Brazilians, who automatically get a spot as host.

There are a number of standouts in the gold fleet, including New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke who are on a 22-event winning streak. “For us, the end goal is clear,” Burling said in a 49er class interview before the regatta. “The goal is to get a gold medal in Rio. We’re not worried about what’s going on in the interim. But, that being said we enjoy the pressure and the challenge of having to perform under it.”

Burling and Tuke are balancing their Olympic training with their roles in Emirates Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup campaign, as are Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, of Australia, with Artemis Racing. Outteridge, who won the title in 2008, teamed up with Jensen and together they won the title in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

“The more time on the water the better,” says Outteridge. “It’s a bit hectic to balance the two campaigns, but we go sail the 49er when we have downtime from Artemis, so we’re able to make it work.”

Rising to the top of the qualifying races earlier in the week were Argentinian brothers Yago and Claus Lange. Their father, Santiago, has been coaching the twins through their 49er campaign. Dubbed by Red Bull as the “most famous Argentinian helmsman of all time,” the eldest Lange is a two-time Olympic medalist and currently campaigning in the Nacra 17 with Cecillia Carranza. This week, however, his focus has been on his sons.

Italian 49erFX sailor Guilia Conti noted how the brown color of the water in Argentina made it difficult for her to read the current and wind direction. Local knowledge will certainly come into play in the gold fleet, and the Langes will have the edge.

Erik Heil and Thomas Plossel, of Germany, made an impressive recovery and returned to the top of the fleet after a serious leg infection following the Aquece Rio test event left Heil in a hospital in Berlin for extended treatment. They sailed in the 49er South American Championship in early November, and finished a disappointing 35th overall. However, they seem to have gotten their strength back, going into the gold fleet in third place. If they perform as well as they did before Heil’s injury, they will secure Germany a berth for Rio 2016.

In the women's 49erFX fleet, the Danes are in control of the gold fleet with teams in the top five overall. Ida Neilsen and Marie Olsen lead the charge having won every race (with the exception of a 10th-place discard), despite Olsen's recovery from an arm injury. "We expected to be at the top," says Olsen in a wrap-up video posted by the class. "But, being in first and having mostly first place finishes is good."

“The [Danish] squad is doing so well because we’ve been working together for the entire Olympic campaign,” says Neilsen. “Even though we’re in the middle of our trials, we decided that we would share all of our knowledge. We have had the same coach all the way and are still sharing that coach. I think we do well because we’re so open about everything.”

The 2015 European champions from Italy, Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich, have been right on Nielsen and Olsen’s tail for the entire regatta. The Italians took a second in Day 2’s single race, while the Danes posted their worst result yet—10th—in the light and variable air. “It was super tricky,” said Conti. “We managed to do very well.”

The US Sailing Team Sperry’s young guns in the FX, Paris Henken and Helena Scutt, are focused on securing an Olympic qualification. They’ve struggled in light air in past events, but in Argentina it has been their sweet spot. On the second day of racing, after a wind delay pushed their start back past noon, Henken and Scutt finished fifth in the day’s only race. They sail well in heavier breeze and with the wind forecast ramping back up over the next few days, Henken and Scutt could climb the leaderboard and secure the berth.

Norway’s Ragna and Maia Agerup are ready to “give it all” to stay near the top of the gold fleet. On their Facebook page, the Agerup twins wrote that they were pleased with their consistent performance so far and with their results consistently improving over three days, the Norwegians will be the biggest competition for the Americans for the Olympic berths. Fortunately, there are enough to go around, with three available in each fleet, and an additional handful of continental spots available in the coming months.

Denmark represented well at the Worlds, with three of the top ten teams in the 49erFX fleet flying the Danish flag.
Though each of the four Australian 49er teams sailing in the World Championship qualified for the gold fleet, favorites Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen haven't performed as well as hoped. The pair, who won the title three times in the past, have been balancing their Olympic campaign with their roles on Artemis Racing.Matias Capizzano
New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke continue to lead the 49er fleet. If they win the worlds, this will be their 23rd consecutive event win.© Matias Capizzano
Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich, from Italy, hold second place going into gold fleet racing.Matias Capizzano
Three full days of racing shook out the leaders, producing a gold fleet that includes six teams that have yet to qualify for Rio. Three spots are up for grabs at this event.© Matias Capizzano
Yagos and Claus Lange, twins from Argentina, are coached by their father Santiago, who is campaigning for the 2016 Olympics himself in a Nacra 17. If the Langes can stay at the top of the 49er fleet through the end of racing, they'll win Argentina a berth for Rio.Matias Capizzano