Written by Cora Zillich
Photography by Beau Outteridge
02 May 2022
There were no medals, but plenty of learnings and promising performances with the Australia Sailing Team wrapping up the 2022 French Olympic week Hyères with two top five and two top ten placings on Saturday (30 April 2022).
It was only the second all-class international Olympic regatta since the Tokyo Olympic Games and one of the first on the shortened two-year road to Paris 2024.
Rio Olympic silver medallists and Tokyo fifth-placed Jason Waterhouse (NSW) and Lisa Darmanin (NSW) return for another Olympic cycle to finish fourth in the Nacra 17 at their first event back.
Olympic champion Matt Wearn (WA), OAM, placed fifth in the ILCA 7, while fellow Tokyo Olympian Mara Stransky (QLD) impressed with a second place in the ILCA 6 medal race to wrap up the week in ninth.
The Formular Kite is one of the three new classes to premiere at the Paris 2024 Games with Australian Sailing Squad’s Breiana Whitehead (QLD) leaving a mark with a sixth place in the women’s event.
After champagne sailing conditions at the Côte d’Azur for most of the week and a full race programme completed across most classes, it was a challenging last day at Hyères with the lack of a breeze holding the fleets ashore for a while before racing was completed in light conditions.
The ILCA 7 (former Laser) were up first up but had another postponement on the water after big shifts required marks to be reset.
Olympic champion Matt Wearn had a mathematical chance to get on to the podium after qualifying for the top ten medal race in sixth. But with just three points separating the top four boats, a third in the medal race was not quite enough.
“The wind shut off in the medal race and we had to wait around before we eventually got quite a soft race in. We had around three to five knots with a persistent right shift throughout making it quite tricky,” Wearn described the conditions.
After sitting on top of the leader board for the qualifying series, Wearn dropped to third on the first day of the final series before qualifying for the medal race in sixth.
“The last bit was a bit disappointing this week. Finishing the qualifying series in first or second place overall and then basically falling down to fifth is obviously not great. But at the end of the day, I can’t be too upset with a fifth. I had two pretty solid results with a second in Palma and a fifth here, so we are not too far away from where we want to be. There is still a lot to work on, but I think we are walking away from this little stint with our heads held high and hopefully come back later in the year and get in a couple more events,” Matt Wearn said.
Wearn and the Australian ILCA 7 squad will be heading to the ILCA 7 World Championships in Mexico next (21-28 May), but will return to Europe for more racing after that.
“It’s been really good to be back in Europe. Obviously there has been a bit of a hiatus with everything that’s been going on but it’s nice to be back doing some events. Obviously, everyone is pretty keen and it’s not long until the Games again so everyone is firing back up,” Wearn added.
Two years out from the Paris 2024 Games, Tokyo Olympian Mara Stransky showed that she will be a force to be reckoned with after wrapping up the French Olympic week with a second place in the top ten medal race of the ILCA 6 (former Laser Radial).
After a regatta of ups and downs the Queenslander went into the final day in ninth place and made the most of another racing opportunity, but without much room to move on the points ladder.
“I went into the day in ninth overall and with a slight chance of moving up but otherwise I couldn’t do too much, so my aim was just to have the best race I could. I’m very happy with the results and the second place was a nice way to finish off a really challenging week,” Stransky said after the race that at times only had 2-3 knots of wind.
“It’s just been a super high scoring event. I’ve been up and down and it’s been quite challenging to maintain a productive outlook on sailing when you are just all over the shop so it was just about keeping a level head,” Stransky described the challenges in the 65-boat fleet this week.
“I’m really happy that we came over to Europe because as always it’s a bit of a slap in the face when you get back into racing in the big fleets over here and I’m looking forward to come back for another stint of racing after a three-week break at home,” Stransky added about the importance of being able to race the international fleet.
Nacra 17 sailors Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin did not have the best start to their Paris 2024 campaign after missing out of most of the racing at Palma due to Covid, but made the most of their racing opportunity at Hyères to finish fourth overall.
The Nacra 17 is featuring some upgrades to its rudder system ahead of Paris 2024 which made it a challenging week physically and mentally as Lisa Darmin explained.
“Jason and I only started training back in February so it was really good to come away with a top five.
“There is lots to learn and it was a bit of an up and down week, a big physical week but also mentally learning so much every day. We are really excited to come back for Kiel Week and then the Europeans will be a really good test for us too.”
The cousins qualified for the top-ten medal race in fifth but were out of medal contention with a 29-points gap to third place. But with fifth or fourth place still at stake, they used the race to test their tactical skills and delivered.
“It was really light, no foiling in three to four knots. We really couldn’t move much today and it was just a battle between fourth and fifth which happened to be our good friends the Kiwis. So we planned a match race and had a bit of fun out there. Top five was our goal and it was a good end to the week to come away with fourth so we are pretty stoked,” Jason Waterhouse said.
Hyères has been featuring all ten Paris 2024 Olympic classes this week with the Formular Kite to premier on the Olympic programme in two-year’s time and with Australian Sailing Squad’s Breiana Whitehead showing leaps and bounds.
After qualifying for the top-14 final in overall tenth, she wrapped up the event in an impressive overall sixth place.
“The finals were high pressure racing, a lot can be gained and lost in those races and I’m really happy to have managed a good performance to move up a few places from qualifying,” Whitehead said.
It was only the second regatta on the Olympic circuit for the 21-year-old which has seen her progressively improving.
“I really enjoyed racing in Hyeres this week. I’m getting more comfortable in the larger girl’s fleet again and it was nice to be pushing up into the top pack a lot more in the races.
“Looking at a few costly crashes in the qualifying, I definitely still have a lot to work on, but I’m really happy with achieving my personal goals for this regatta and making big improvements. I’m now looking forward to putting some more work in at home before the big regattas for me later in the year,” Whitehead said.
The 2022 French Olympic Week Hyères was only the second international regatta for the Australian Sailing Team and Australian Sailing Squad after two years away from the international circuit and with only two years to go to Paris 2024 there were essential take-aways from both events.
“Palma and Hyères were the kick-off to our shortened Paris 2024 campaign and while we have identified several things we need to continue working on, we are leaving Hyères with good momentum and motivation.
“Both events were a great team effort on all levels including athletes, coaches and support staff and we are looking forward to the next few months and exposing the team to more high-calibre international racing to keep strengthening and fine-tuning our skills as we continue our preparations for Paris,” High Performance Director Iain Brambell OLY summarised the event.
“Racing internationally and especially in the big fleets, is an essential learning experience for all of our athletes and we came here to fine tune quite a few things, including the starts and they were getting better throughout the week.
“We will take every opportunity to get competition in both formal and coach regattas to ensure that we do everything possible to improve the squads staying on in Europe to help them continuously grow,” Brambell added.
With several athletes missing racing at the first event in Palma, Spain due to Covid and other challenges, the full team was back in action for Hyères, a fact Brambell credits the whole team for as well as the work done on and off the water in the lead-up.
“As we came back into Europe it wasn’t just about the Covid challenges, we had been out of the Northern Hemisphere for two years, and bugs as well as logistics were a complication on this trip.
“Covid was an extra layer of challenge and the way we got through all that was because of really thorough support staff work as well as leadership from the coaches and the compliance from the athletes. It was a positive test to our team culture and I’m pleased to report that the values we have set as a team were matched by the appropriate behaviours, a sign we are moving in a very positive collective performance direction,” Brambell concluded.
Racing at the 53rd edition of the French Olympic Week Hyeres took place from 24 to 30 April 2022.
All results can be viewed here.