Top Shop

I’m not sure I will ever get bored of watching Lasers at the leeward mark, rounding in massive breeze and big waves. It’s one of the sights of sailing and this week has been a showcase down in the Bay of Palma of not only the genius creation from the drawing-board of Bruce Kirby but right across the fleets.

It has been a feast for the senses – spring cold, uncompromising, tough and breezy – definitely not a regatta for the light-air specialists but a breathtaking display of boat-handling and near misses in the big time of Olympic pathway competition. Every sailor at the event deserves credit for proving that the Olympic circuit is as relevant today as it’s ever been and that the next generation of superstars of our sport are well on their way.

But I’ll start with the Lasers and the simply massive news that Matt Wearn, the thunder from down under, has finally been aced in a fair and square regatta. And by a Brit, no less…

Genuinely I thought he was unbeatable, straight out of the Robert Scheidt / Ben Ainslie / Ed Baird bracket of genius. Going into the medal race it was pretty much a straight shoot-out between Beckett, Wearn and the German ace Philipe Buhl but with a healthy margin, the hugely popular Beckett just had to sail fluidly and let his talent do the talking. Wearn may well have taken the chocolates in the final race but the glory was Beckett’s…top sailing.

I’ve been watching the Lasers closely and the rise of the British squad has been mercurial. They doubled-down on their training and you now can’t pick between Micky Beckett, Sam Whaley and the Tokyo 2020 representative Elliot Hanson.

But this week it was Beckett that put it all together with a truly beautiful level of consistency to win a regatta that will live long in his memory. Beating Wearn is to say something. It’s a marker of serious intent. It’s a challenge laid down and it’s a statement saying: “No cakewalk to Marseille 2024.” Brilliant.

Equally, in the men’s iQFOiL a big message is being sent from the GBR squad that they mean business and in Andrew Brown we have someone who can face down the hard-charging, and perennially brilliant Dutch and Italians, to score big when it matters.

Brown put the pedal to the metal mid-regatta firing in the aces and never looked back as this ridiculously amazing new discipline stole the show. I just love it and the format changes from standard windward-leewards to slalom to marathon courses is really capturing something very special. It’s fresh. It’s modern. It’s electric to watch. The way these flight pilots are sailing is just an inspiration and you can’t help but feel that World Sailing and the Olympic movement have something super-special now at their disposal to encourage huge participation and thus grow the sport globally.

Everyone wishes they could sail an iQFOiL – just watch those numbers explode.

And I was leaping out of my airport departure lounge seat in Geneva yesterday as I kept tabs on the Mixed 470 fleet – apologies to fellow passengers for the whoops and “come ons” as we boarded but Vita Heathcote and Ryan Orr were leading by a country mile with Martin Wrigley and my fast-becoming-favourite-sailor Eilidh McIntyre chasing hard in second.

I missed the overtake but the record stands that Martin and Eilidh won with Vita and Ryan in second – two brilliant performances that will give the sailors, the RYA selectors and the coaches a heck of a lot of encouragement for the future.

Jordi Xammar, fresh from the donkey-derby of SailGP in San Francisco was the stand-out performer in this fleet, sailing with Nora Brugman, but the Brits now know where the level is and are safe in the knowledge that they are coming fast.

Elsewhere there have been great performances – Connor Bainbridge in the Men’s Kites is super-notable from a British perspective but Theo de Ramecourt, the French kiting genius has set the bar insanely high recording 14 bullets along the way – that’s an annihilation from someone who is hell-bent on taking this all the way to Marseille in 2024.

But the big story of the week in the kites was to be found in the women’s discipline where France’s top hope Lauriane Nolot had bested the American giant of the sport, Daniela Moroz, all week.

Going into the medal race, Lauriane had recorded six wins over Daniela’s seven but right on cue, right when it mattered, the genius of Moroz shone through as she took the title right at the death. Hard luck on Nolot who gave it everything but sailing against experienced legends is tough and they don’t come tougher than the force of nature that is Moroz at her peak.

The Nacra 17’s was a more straightforward affair with the Italian flyers, Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti once again destroying the fleet in the medal race to finish with no less than nine bullets and a margin of 36 points over the Finnish pair of Sinem Kurtbay and Akseli Keskinen – that’s a generation ahead. I firmly believe that only John Gimson and Anna Burnet from GBR are at a level to beat Tita and Banti but my goodness, on this form, they are a mighty challenge.

Well, the 51 Trofeo Princesa Sofia draws to a conclusion and affords a further conclusion to be drawn that the white-hot Olympic flame of sailing competition for Paris 2024 is well and truly off and running. There’s so much to be enthusiastic about. The sailors at the top end are mesmerising to watch and are performing at such a high level that you have to pinch yourself to believe that it’s not an Olympic year this year.

For the coaches and selectors they go away with very clear ideas of where the polish needs applying, who can handle the big time and where the medallists can be refined and defined. It’s a super-cycle this time, foreshortened by the pandemic delay to the Tokyo Games but it’s every bit as vital and vibrant as ever.

This is the Top Shop of dinghy racing and the rails are full of desirable, shining goods just waiting to be adorned with Gold, Silver and Bronze accessories come the Paris 2024 Olympiad.

‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ it just never goes out of fashion.

3 thoughts on “Top Shop

  1. Geneva again? If you keep these trips up, I’m going to bug you to take pics at CERN for me.


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