Titles go on the line when the sailing world championships get under way in Aarhus tonight (NZ time) but the regatta is so much more than that.
The combined world championships are held every four years and this week’s regatta doubles as the first opportunity for countries to qualify boats for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It also has funding implications for the large contingent of Kiwi sailors with most aiming to earn a spot in the top-tier NZL Sailing Team.
Competition gets under way tonight in the Finn (Josh Junior and Andy Maloney) and men’s (Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox) and women’s (Courtney and Brianna Reynolds-Smith) 470. The other eight Olympic classes, as well as the men’s and women’s formula kite, are staggered across the next 10 days.
“Our main goal for the event is qualifying classes for the Olympics,” Yachting New Zealand high performance director Ian Stewart said, “but that’s not an easy task with 1400 sailors in Aarhus.
“This is also our pinnacle event for the year and we’ve made it pretty clear we want to get some good results. It’s like all regattas so it’s all about consistency but that’s so much easier said than done because Aarhus is a tricky place to sail.”
Predominantly light winds are forecast for the first few days of competition.
As many as 29 New Zealand sailors are competing in Aarhus and, for the likes of the Reynolds-Smith twins and Veerle ten Have (women’s RS:X), it will be their first at world championships level. Ten Have comes into the competition hot off winning a silver medal at the recent youth sailing world championships in the United States.
“We have varying levels of sailing teams here and it’s really exciting,” Stewart said. “The existing members of the NZL Sailing Team are eyeing more medals, there are others on the cusp of the NZL Sailing Team and there is also a development aspect with some young talent experiencing the worlds for the first time.
“It would be a great problem to have at the end of this if we get a whole lot of top-10 results and a bigger NZL Sailing Team.”
The combined world championships are traditionally held in the middle of the Olympic cycle and the countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Games recently ticked over two years to go. It represented a significant milestone and the spectre of the Olympics hangs over the Aarhus regatta.
Sailors from each class know how many Olympic spots are up for grabs over the next few days, ranging from eight in the Finn, Nacra 17, 49er, 49erFX and men’s and women’s 470 to 18 in the Laser Radial.
The men’s and women’s formula kite have also been added to the programme in Aarhus with kiteboarding due to make its debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“All of our sailors are healthy and had good lead-ins but the world’s best is here so it’s going to be tough racing,” Stewart said.