Air Hyeres

There’s many different theories on racing in big, Olympic standard fleets. Some coaches insist on a fast start – get a couple of top fives on the board and the regatta becomes something akin to a bird on a perch. You look down on the chasers. It’s a bit easier. Others demand consistency – nothing wrong with a couple of top tens, after all you can’t win the regatta on the first day but you can certainly lose it. The most entertaining of tactics though is the Ainslie method. Get disqualified in about race two, right when it matters at the actual Olympic Games itself, get angry and then trounce everyone with a masterclass. But that genius only comes around once every five to ten generations.

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

Or does it? There’s a very reasoned argument to be made in this Olympic cycle for three, possibly four athletes who have elevated themselves to God-like status in the mould of Big Ben. Look at the peak of the Nacra 17’s, the Women’s KiteFoil or the Men’s Laser class and there are very special things happening before our eyes.

The fast start is where these athletes are at and down on the Cote d’Azur, Italy’s Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti, America’s darling Daniela Moroz and the thunder from Down Under, Matt Wearn are proving their favourite status for the shiniest of metal at Marseille 2024.

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

In big breezes not quite at the mistral status that some would have you believe (if you’ve ever been in a mistral you’ll certainly agree), the fleets were challenged on day one with capsizes aplenty to shake off those with ring rust and training lapses but the cream rose.

It’s probably easiest to kick off with the St Francis Yacht Club’s finest ambassador in Daniela Moroz who just kept it cool and banged in a 2, 4, 2, 1 scoreline to sit clear at the top. Make no mistake, this female athlete is star quality – possibly the brightest star of the Olympic cycle and she truly has the world at her feet. She’s a class apart. She’s box-office. She delivers more regularly than the postman.

And she’s cool as hell with an Instagram feed to die for and undoubtedly one of those athletes that just rises and rises to the occasion. It’s a pleasure to watch her in action. This kind of golden comes around rarely. Enjoy it whilst we can.

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

Same too for Matty Wearn, the silent killer from Perth who’s perfectly comfortable when the breeze comes up – all that training in the Fremantle Doctor has made one heck of a sailor and in Hyeres he’s out of the traps with a 2,1 after the first day. That’s difficult to do in the Laser fleet. Impossible almost.

But Wearn, the gold medallist from Tokyo, is on the hunt for more silverware this week and determined to avenge a narrow defeat in Palma just a few weeks ago. But it’s so tight at the top and the fleet is littered with talent, world champions, medallists and hard chargers. For Wearn to stay ahead, he knows he’s got to dig deep. The Laser fleet is just electric this week and whoever comes out on top will be laying down a serious marker for Marseille.

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

Meanwhile in the fast-foiling Nacra 17’s that are just made-for-television, order in this particular galaxy was established quickly with an opening race win for Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti. Oh how we are getting used to saying that.

These two are proving impossible to beat. They’ve just got the X-Factor right now and are like the most breathtaking opera singers that simply never disappoint and send shivers down your spine. Quite how they grind out the wins is something of a marvel. I wouldn’t say they make life easy for themselves but they are relentless in their whole-course execution, displaying pace and power combined with balletic brilliance to extract the absolute maximum from their platform. Keep going like this and you’re seeing the next generation of SailGP whizzes on the rise here. They are that good.

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

So Hyeres is off to a flyer – good results for the Brits with Hannah Snellgrove from Lymington getting a bullet in race one of the ILCA 6’s but Daisy Collingridge sitting overall in 7th place after consistent top ten’s. This rivalry for the Olympic spot will run and run to the wire.

So too in the Mixed 470’s with Martin Wrigley and Eilidh McIntyre sitting pretty in 6th place overall just two ahead of Vita Heathcote and Ryan Orr. Too close and far too early to call on which one of these two outstanding teams will win a slot – oh to be a selector heh?

© Sailing Energy / FFVOILE

You can feel the Olympic flame burning within the athletes. It’s a desperate battle to find form and execute on potential. We’re starting to see patterns emerge and favourites are rising to the challenge all through the fleets. The fast starters could become tomorrow’s also-rans but we’re seeing the usual suspects at the top and that’s ominous.

Getting the nod for your country’s Olympic team must be one of the all-time greatest feelings but capitalising and medalling is the name of this game and it’s an unforgiving cauldron of sporting excellence. Every day that passes, we know more about who’s got it and where the medallists will likely be found but it’s a long runway to Olympic glory that’s got many a pothole along the way.


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