Golden Isles

Twinkling seas, forever blue sky, fair winds and food to die for. Yes this week, those lucky souls on the travelling circuit, are in for a treat with the French Olympic Week – the ‘Semaine Olympique Francaise 2022’ – featuring all ten classes and disciplines for what promises to be an all-action event.

The big names are in town. The ones that will be bothering the podiums and collecting precious metal in 2024 are here to keep the train going and build that momentum to Marseille, catching the eye of the selectors and delighting their coaches. For others, it’s a different trajectory. Vital learning across white-hot fleets of how to handle the big time. The stage is set. The sailing will be brilliant and as tests go, it doesn’t come much tougher than this.

©Semaine Olympique Francaise 2022

Surrounded by the ‘Golden Isles’ of Porquerolles, Port Cros and the naturist paradise, I kid ye not, of Le Levant, Hyeres is a spectacular old medieval town nestled in the middle between the glamour of St Tropez and the mean streets of Marseille just down the coast.

It’s a beautiful place with a never-ending beachfront and some of the best seafood in France. There’s culture aplenty in the town whilst the Giens peninsula with its stunning salt beds is a haven for our friends of the feathered kind. As sailing venues go, there’s not much to complain about and the organisers are world-class at hosting the Olympic set with this, the 53rd running of the event and back on the calendar after the pandemic once again. Welcome back.

©Semaine Olympique Francaise 2022

Fresh off the back of the Trofeo Princesa Sofia, the competition is looking to be a classic with Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallists aplenty. Australia’s Matt Wearn will be looking to usurp Britain’s fast-charging superstar Micky Becket alongside the full travelling GBR Laser Team of Sam Whaley and Eliot Hanson. The Lasers will be one of the hottest fleets ever assembled and are certainly ones to keep an eye on.

Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti in the Nacra 17 are fast becoming untouchable but if anyone’s going to challenge them then look no further than Britain’s silver medallists from Tokyo: John Gimson and Anna Burnet. This is one of the defining rivalries of this Olympic cycle – can John and Anna bridge the gap to the Italians? I’m saying ‘yes’ as it’s a long way to go and I have every faith in the RYA’s development programme but right now it’s all Ruggero and Caterina who are laying down an impressive marker and raising the standard impossibly high.

Banti and Rugera in Palma ©Sailing Energy

The iQFOiLs will once again steal the show with their innovative courses and sheer ‘what-did-I-just-see’ spectacle of high-performance electricity. Calling this is tough and highly weather dependent but in both women’s and men’s disciplines it’s the French that are looking strong. World champions of iQFOiL, Hélène Noesmoen and Nicolas Goyard are here in Hyeres, so too Thomas Goyard, silver medallist in RS:X in Tokyo, and Pierre Le Coq, bronze medallist in RS: X in Rio. Emma Wilson may well have something to say in the final standings in the women’s fleet for GBR but win, lose or draw, the iQFOiLs are just brilliant to watch – what a terrific addition to the Olympic roster they are.

©Sailing Energy

In the hard-to-love KiteFoils, I’m starting to wonder whether we may as well just award the gold medals to Théo de Ramecourt in the men’s discipline and Daniela Moroz in the women’s. That’s probably a bit previous and cheeky but these two are on another level and it’s now down to the rest of the fleet to come up with answers. Moroz was pushed to the final race in Palma recently and won but Ramecourt is over the horizon. I don’t expect to see any upsets in Hyeres but you never know for sure…

©Sailing Energy

There’s interest right across the fleets. I could bang on for miles. One thing’s for sure – this Olympic cycle is alive and kicking with sailors worthy of any time in history. It’s an endlessly fascinating scene and one that you can’t take your eye off for a moment.

Hyeres will be stunning. The sailors will perform. Where better than the South of France at the beginning of summer?

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