Women’s Skiff racing is in its infancy. With the exception of a few ambitious women who jumped into 18 footers or raced 49er against the men, this past four years is the first large scale movement of women into full trapeze skiffs. The impact of having so many talented sailors try something new all at once is what makes the fight for Rio Gold in 2016 so compelling. It seems that each event sees another team take their sailing to a new level and make the leap to contender status. The fleet is learning how to push the boats, themselves, and the team dynamics further than they ever imagined, with the reward so close they can taste it.
Of course, the Rio Olympics will not be the most competitive regatta of 2016. The most competitive regatta of 2016 will be this World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. Unlike the games where only one boat per nation qualifies, challenging for the Worlds are full squads of Danes, Brits, French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, and the rest. Most of these nations are using the worlds as selection regattas to whittle down their squads and identify their Olympic representative. The pressure is on not only for the world title but for these many races within the race. It should be a fascinating week.
In hot form are 2013 World Champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech. It’s been a while since they stood atop a 49erFX podium, a trend undone last week as they won the Miami Sailing World Cup by over 30 points. They utilized an aggressive strategic style, solid starting, and strong speed throughout the wind range to shoot well above the rest of the competition by weeks end. Red Bull sponsored and training partners with 2014 World Sailors of the Year, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze of Brazil, this kiwi duo is reasserting their claims to favorite.
Also on fire are Danes Jena Hansen and Katja Iversen of the venerable Danish squad. One hallmark of these four years has been the Danish squad consistently sending three teams into the top 10 regatta after regatta. Their trials is a three regatta series consisting of 2015 Worlds, 2016 Miami, and 2016 Worlds meaning we are 2/3 of the way through. Ida Nielsen and Marie Olsen were off to a great start leading the 2015 Worlds until they faltered on the last day while still saving a third place… but Jena and Katja were only 1 place behind in fourth, meaning there was not much of a lead generated. In Miami, however, Jena and Katja claimed the silver while Ida and Marie were back in 10th place. The Shutt Sisters have not fared so well in their trials so far and with a 7th and 14th will be looking to apply the pressure early by coming out hot if they are to have any chance at a comeback.
We can’t forget the Italian duo of Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapchich. These two are coached by long time 49er legend Gianfranco Sibello and come from strong 470 and Laser Radial backgrounds. They took a season or so to really get into the skiff sailing mentality, but then dominated in 2015. They won both the 2015 European and World Championships, on both occasions claiming the titles in the medal races with pressure on. They have shown the sporting passion Italians are famous for with the skillset to put them consistently in the hunt and rarely out of contention. With their boatspeed recently matching their sailing skills, they are looking to extend their streak of 49erFX championships.
There are numerous other strong challengers for the title from Spain, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Argentina, Australia, and Germany. Of these the Spanish, British, French, and Argentinian pairs have secured their Olympic berths. The remaining teams are still looking to qualify within their nations. Five German teams have been mounting full focus attempts at sailing well here at the World Championships. This is the second leg of their three event trials, with Porto 2015 Europeans as the first leg and the final leg in Palma in March. The German squad skipped competing in Miami to be fully prepared in Clearwater, and any of the team could contend for the championship. Whether they can keep their minds clear of their trials will be a difficult test, in addition to all the other nations looking to place well.
The final note here is of the US trials. Team Henken/Scutt are one of the youngest teams on circuit at 18 and 22 years old, however, they’ve been training hard for the quad and looked to lead a small US 49erFX squad. However, emerging from Miami were a relatively new to the boat team of Emily Dallenbaugh and Elizabeth Barry. They started sailing skiffs in June 2014 and had a great regatta to only trail in the trials by a single place. Both teams will face the famous pressure of a US trials as they perform under the watchful eye of home fans and high expectation of US sailors.
For more on the event, visit the 49er/49erFX class website.