Saturday, 11 July 2009

Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship 2009 – Runners and Riders

Volvo ISAF Youth Worlds 2009 Opening Ceremony in Brazil. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Sophie Luther

The world’s top young sailing talent is gathered in Buzios, Brazil for start of racing at the 39th Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship on Saturday 11 July – take a look at the formbook before racing gets underway.

The Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship, open to competitors who do not exceed the age of 18 during the calendar year of the event, represents the undisputed pinnacle of youth sailing. Entry is restricted to one boat per nation, per event, so the sailors have already had to win through their national qualification series to earn their place in Brazil. The competition takes place across seven events and running parallel to this is the Volvo Trophy, awarded to the top-performing nation at the championship.

So just who are the crews expected to challenge for the title over the coming seven days? The Youth Worlds always throws up plenty of surprises, but nevertheless here’s our guide to the formbook looking ahead to the start of racing.

Runners and Riders

Two of last year’s champions will defend their titles in Buzios this year. The first of these is the French Multihull team formed of brothers Romain and Valentin Bellet. The Bellet’s won last year’s title in the Sirena SL16, but face a different challenge this time around with competition held in the ever-popular Hobie 16. In fact so popular is the Open Multihull event this year, the equipment supplier Hobie Cat had to ship in extra boats to accommodate the record entry.

“It’s definitely exciting,” says skipper Romain, who, despite the increased competition, has just one goal in mind, “Last year we won and we want to win again this year! It’s very different as last year was in the SL16 and this year it’s in the Hobie 16 so it’s a new challenge. We started training in the Hobie 16 in January and it’s a very different boat.”

Lining up against the Bellet brothers the African challenge looks particularly strong this year. Matthew Whitehead (RSA) won silver at the helm of the South African multihull last year aged just 16 and returns again in 2009 with new crew Calene Loubser (RSA). Meanwhile, Stewart Walker and David Thomas (BOT) are the first Botswana sailors to ever compete at the Youth Worlds. Another team to keep an eye on is that of Australian cousins Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin. Gastón Cheb Terrab (ARG), silver medallists at last year’s Youth Worlds in the 29er, teams up with Pedro Kocourek (ARG) to form the first multihull team to represent Argentina at the Youth Worlds.

The Boy’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial event has the huge entry this year, with over 50 nations represented in the fleet. Last year Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus dominated the competition to become the first sailor to win the Laser title twice (to put that into perspective both Ben Ainslie (GBR) and Russell Coutts (NZL) won one gold and one silver in the Laser competition), but now the Cypriot falls outside the age range for the championship and the field again looks wide open.

In the Girl’s Laser Radial event, the winner of the past two editions, Gabrielle King (AUS), also made her final Youth Worlds appearance in Århus last July. Isabella Bertold (CAN), Heidi Tenkanen (FIN) and Elizabeth Yin (SIN) all return to the Youth Worlds this year aiming to build on impressive finishes last time out in Denmark.

Following on from 2008, where the 29er was equipment for the Boy’s and Girl’s Two Person Dinghy events, in Brazil this year the 420 returns to the Youth Worlds fold (next year’s competition in Turkey will feature Boy’s and Girl’s 420 racing and an Open 29er event). A couple of famous sailing families will be represented in the Two Person Dinghy fleets.

Martine Soffiatti Grael, daughter of Torben Grael, helms the Brazilian 420 boat. Along with crew Kahena Kunze she is amongst the favourites for gold. David Gilmour (AUS) is another famous sailing sibling in the Boy’s 420 fleet. Gilmour, the son of match racing legend Peter Gilmour (AUS), and competing here with James Omay in the Australian 420, is full of enthusiasm ahead of the start of racing. “It’s been some much fun. It’s the best regatta I’ve done,” he says. Asked about his famous father he says he’s a handy source of advice, “He gives me a lot more help, than, I guess, other people get”, although admitted that recent tips had been a little thin on the ground as Gilmour senior has been away competing on the World Match Racing Tour.

Another 420 team to keep an eye on are Philip Sparks and Ben Gratton of Great Britain, who won the recent 420 event at Kieler Woche. Singapore has a great record in the 420 events, and after narrowly missing out on the medals last year in Denmark will be aiming for a return to the podium this time around. Justin Liu and Sherman Cheng (SIN) are Singapore representatives in the Boy’s event with Griselda Khng and Cecilia Low (SIN) looking to build on a strong showing last year at Denmark in the Girl’s event.

The second of the 2008 champions defending their title in Brazil this year is Michalis Malekkides (CYP) in the Boy’s Windsurfer - RS:X. Malekkides excelled in the windy Bay of Århus last year and will be hoping for a repeat performance as he sets about his title defence in Buzios.

“I will fight as hard as I can and in the end the best sailor will win. My aim of course to win, but I know it’s not easy as there are a lot of good sailors here,” he says. However Malekkides conceded the conditions are not exactly to his liking, “There’s a lot of big waves which will be difficult more me because in Cyprus I practice on flat water. But I think I can do well.”

Germany’s Oliver-Tom Schliemann is sure to be amongst the Cypriot’s principal challengers this time around as is Brazil’s Jorge Renato, a protégée of a sailing scheme put in place by Buizos local, double Youth Worlds Champion and 2007 ISAF Sailing World Champion Ricardo Santos (BRA). Another name to look out for is Jacek Piasecki (POL), the latest star to emerge from the fruitful Polish windsurfing team.

Similarly, Agnieszka Bilska (POL) looks set to be amongst the leading challengers in the Girl’s Windsurfer – RS:X event. Hong Kong’s Hei Man Chan has an impressive track record coming into the event, whilst Catherine Fogli (ITA) takes over the Italian mantle from five-time medallist Laura Linares (ITA).

The forecast is for excellent sailing conditions, with winds in the 10-15 knot range and plenty of sunshine. Today, Practice Races were held across all seven events.

One of the enduring attractions of the Youth Worlds is its sheer unpredictability. As the championship grows from year to year, the depth of talent is increasing and it’s now harder than ever to win medals. Duncan Trustwell, one of the coaches from the British team defending the Volvo Trophy summed it up, “This regatta’s always pretty interesting in that you never really know who’s going to turn up and how they’re going to get on.”

The Opening Ceremony of the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship takes place in Buzios tonight, followed by the start of racing on Saturday 11 July. Two races are scheduled across all seven events giving the young stars here in Brazil an early opportunity to make their mark.

Volvo ISAF Youth Worlds

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