At the 2016 470 World Championships in Buenos Aires, the stakes are high. But, none may be higher than for Will Ryan and Mat Belcher. When the crew won the 2015 470 World Championships in Haifa, Israel in October of last year, it was a record-breaking sixth successive title for Olympic gold medalist Belcher, and the fifth for the pair together. “We’ve been training pretty hard over the Australian summer,” said Belcher in a Australian Sailing Team statement. “It’s really tough conditions with all the best crews here. We’re really looking forward to starting racing again and hopefully posting a good result leading into the Games.”
Belcher and Ryan will face off against the Bronze medalists from the 2012 games, Juan De La Fuente and Lucas Calabrese, Stu McNay and Dave Hughes who are just coming off a win at the Sailing World Cup Miami, as well as the 2nd and 3rd place teams from the Aquece Rio Test Event last August. “There is a group of at least five boats that all have a chance to win these events,” says Belcher. “All of those five or six boats given their day, given their week can come out on top and really the top 15 have a chance to medal.”
For McNay and Hughes, the 2015 World Championships in Haifa were a real challenge, leaving them in 17th overall less than a year before the Olympics. However, since the last Championship McNay/Hughes have regularly been ascending podiums, at the Sailing World Cup Miami, 470 North Americans, and the US 470 Nationals most recently. They’ve proven themselves on the international stage before, and Buenos Aires gives them an opportunity to make their mark just six months before the Games.
On the women’s side, the reigning world champions will also return to the racecourse; Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar, from Austria. Here, the matchup to watch is between the Austrians and the New Zelanders Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie, who won gold in London in 2012. However, the Kiwis have been challenged by light air in the past, especially at the World Cup in Haifa where Vadlau and Ogar did so well. Since conditions in Argentina is generally light, it might be tough for Aleh and Powrie to put a dent in the Austrian’s title run.
Not to be left out are 2012 silver medalists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, currently ranked first in the world to the Austrian’s third. Mills and Clark had an outstanding year last year, and they show no signs of slowing down. They’ve won the past two Sailing World Cups (Miami and Weymouth), and came out second to the Austrians at last year’s Worlds.
Up-and-coming American 470 team Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha didn’t sail in the Miami event, but just a week ago took second overall in the 470 South American Championships, which many teams used as a warm up for Worlds. They’ll be competing against the international field, but more importantly against their own countrywomen, Sydney Bolger and Carly Shevitz, in the first of two selection events for the women’s spot. With Hughes/McNay sailing uncontested in the class, American eyes should be focused on how these two teams of young women to find out who will spend their summer sailing in Rio.