When Ian Walker gets to his desk on Monday morning and reviews the 51st Trofeo Princesa Sofia regatta, I’d imagine he’s going to be a pretty happy chappy. As Performance Director of the RYA, Ian is charged with continuing the storied medal haul of Tokyo 2020 and turbo-charging the next generation, the new generation, of British Olympic talent to give them the very best platform to perform. He’s the right man for the job and he’s pretty damned good at it.
What Ian will see, as he pores over the results and chats to his coaching team, is developing British talent rising across the fleets. And they’re looking great to peak at the right time.
Yes for sure it’s lovely to scoop a podium at regattas like these but they are mere sign-posts on the way to Marseille. To be honest they are a guide to form but most crucially a guide to who’s got the mentality for the big time. What matters is medalling at the right time and what the RYA pathways have proven yet again is that the endless medal factory hasn’t stood still under Ian Walker. In fact, it’s motoring and there’s been some brilliant performances from the GBR squad.
As case in point, I look at the ILCA fleets (we call them the ‘Laser’ okay) and in the Men’s division we have Micky Beckett who’s looking like a serious threat for Gold in Marseille even acing the world’s best Laser sailor in Aussie Matt Wearn who is here and within striking distance as I write.
And in the GBR Laser squad, they are pushing each other harder and harder. Elliot Hanson and Sam Whaley, both utter geniuses in the boat, are also in the top ten and performing well. Who on earth would you select? And then in the women’s division, it’s the same story with Daisy Collingridge and Hannah Snellgrove in the top six – incredible performances. The Laser fleets are white hot but the Brits are flying high. Terrific to see.
In the Men’s kites, not my favourite discipline if I’m honest but I’m trying, the Brits are making it easier for me to love by hammering it with Connor Bainbridge and Guy Bridge pushing for the podium and occupying third and seventh coming into the business end of the regatta. And it doesn’t stop there – one of the stand-out performances from a British perspective has been the rise of Ellie Aldridge who’s been pushing hard for the title but equally, there’s an embarrassment of riches with Aldeburgh’s Maddy Anderson and Weymouth’s Katie Dabson in the top ten. The women’s fleet is hot. Even superstar Daniela Moroz from the good ol’ US of A is finding the going tough and it’s been a long time since we could last say that (she’s in fourth as I write).
Elsewhere, Andrew Brown signed off in the Men’s iQFOiL with a stunning seven bullets, revelling in the breeze whilst Islay Watson was runner up in the super-hot women’s discipline. Stellar performances from these two. And just how cool are the iQFOiLs? They are going to steal the show in Paris. Oh to be a teenager again…
Moving on with this trot across the fleets, it’s very encouraging to see Freya Black, now sailing with the force of nature and real superstar Saskia Tidey, knocking on the door of the top five in the 49erFX. I love these two – they do it with a smile on their faces and Insta feeds to die for. Meanwhile, Vita Heathcote and Ryan Orr in the 470s had a middling day with a DNC recorded but are still looking good for a top ten – and that’s cool – Vita and Ryan are a real talent coming through this tricky fleet and will be ones to watch as the RYA coaches get their mojo on with the pair.
Now for my favourite secret obsession – the Nacra 17 – and it’s a real tussle at the top but the class act all week has been the Italian Gold medallists from Tokyo, Ruggera Tita and Catherina Banti who have been the stars of the show and are the mightiest roadblock to the all-comers pushing hard behind.
However, after a slow start by their standards, it’s my tip for Gold in Marseille John Gimson and Anna Burnet who have been the fast risers. They’re on the podium by the slimmest of margins just behind another Italian crew but I can see the precious metal of the XXXIII Olympiad being an almost match-race between the Brits and the Tita/Banti juggernaut. I’m calling it for the Brits this time to avenge their silver and go one better…well I would say that. It’s a bet from the heart…
So, back to Ian Walker and the RYA who’ve now got real diamonds to polish all across the fleets and have a simply superb chance of churning out another medal haul. And there was us thinking the golden generation was over. What fools we are. The GBR programme from top to bottom is world-class. The pathways from Optimists onwards are littered with talent to burn and they’re well on their way to glory in Marseille. Congratulations to the RYA – they’re the gold-standard in performance and talent spotting and deserve every penny of the vast riches their success repeatedly generates.
Money well spent in my book and with Ian Walker they have the very best of the best in charge. Happy Monday Ian. Happy Monday.