“The most important thing in the Olympic games is not winning but taking part, the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” The sage words of Pierre de Coubertin, the ‘father’ of the modern Olympic Games, may well be right but right now down in the Bay of Palma, winning is everything.
Yes, the 51st Trofeo Sofia Mallorca has come thundering onto the schedule and with a runway to the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Games on the 26th July 2024, all the Olympic classes are heating up. It’s a marvellous spectacle of youth and ambition with wise heads leading the less experienced who may well be on a different Games trajectory, and a natural pecking order starting to form. Brilliant to watch – it must be wonderful to be one of the thousand plus sailors taking part.
The iQFOiL (I think I spelled that correctly) has really caught my eye in this cycle and of all the new disciplines and diversity included this time, I think it’s rapidly capturing the ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ moniker of the Olympic spirit.
The windsurfing discipline needed a re-boot and they got it. Foiling boards are everywhere at the moment, especially at the semi grass-roots level, and this is translating into top flight competition with new specialists of the sport showing us just how close and exciting this racing can be. The slalom courses are a banzai crazy five minutes of all-out action that is electrifying to watch – it must be mind-boggling to compete in – and the action at the front of the fleet is intense in the standard races.
Now I would say this wouldn’t I, but the Great Britain Team has an embarrassment of riches at the top of the Men’s iQFOiL discipline with a trio – Finn Hawkins, Andrew Brown and Sam Sills – all vying for the Paris slot. Praise the Lord you’re not an RYA selector trying to pick a representative out of this lot so I wonder whether they will be using the weather data from Marseille in the summer to decide who gets the golden shot at a medal. Tough decision. If it were going to be windy, it would perhaps be Sam Sills who just shades it, as he’s as close to dynamite as you can get in the rough stuff but Brown is a powerful wizard and Finn Hawkins is nipping at their heels. In Palma it’s Andrew Brown at the moment but a long way to go.
It’s interesting to see how the iQFOils are trending in both the Men’s and Women’s disciplines, with incredibly well-built, muscular athletes dominating. Remember in the old windsurfers of Tokyo 2020 (but sailed in 2021) where the athletes were virtual toothpicks in comparison. The genesis has been swift. Now it’s all-out grunt that’s required with the foilers becoming monsters as they generate so much power and it’s really one heck of a sight to see the top players, in both disciplines, in action.
As a complete aside, this trend towards bigger athletes in foilers in general was something highlighted to me by a UK yacht designer of some renown whose keen observation of the Moths was that the optimum weight for these seemingly balletic little skiffs is 88kg, if not more…will we see more ex-Finn sailors transferring to iQFOiLs to ride the Olympic train one more time? Welcome to your flight chaps.
In the women’s iQFOiL fleet, again the Brits have some superstar talent emerging and to gauge the level to justify this, Emma Wilson, the hugely popular bronze medallist from Tokyo is lying seventh with two other Brits, Islay Watson and Saskia Sills just above in 6th and 5th respectively. This trio are pushing themselves harder and harder – brilliant from a British perspective.
But the top of the fleet is currently dominated by French, Spanish and Israeli ‘pilots’ (I think that’s what the foil boarders should now be called) and they are really laying it down in Mallorca. Top of the pile currently is Helene Noesmoen with class stalwart Pilar LaMadrid chasing hard. I’ll have an educated guess that unless the RYA pulls yet another rabbit out of the medal hat as they are very good at doing, it will be these two that are deciding precious metal in Marseille. Fascinating to watch. The iQFOiL’s are where it’s at in this Olympic cycle.
Now, I could bang on for another thousand words about Micky Beckett in the Laser/ILCA 7’s or Jordi Xammar (yes him from SailGP fame) in the 470’s, but I’ll spare you and leave that for another day as the results start coming through. But everywhere I look there are stories aplenty – it’s a gold-mine of interest.
The Bay of Palma is alive with youth and brilliance, and it reminds me of that other famous Olympic quote: “Don’t buy gold, earn it.” The race for the medals in Marseille is well and truly underway, Palma is the perfect stop-off to start seeing who’s in form and who can handle the big time.
Is everything happening in Spain these days?