Photography by Nikos Alevromytis
11 July 2017
The former world champs were second after three races on the opening day in Thessaloniki. After a two-hour postponement ashore waiting for the thermal breeze, they were one of 132 teams from 32 nations which headed-out in 8-10 knots for the first race, which built to 15-16 knots under a clear blue sky.
There is a strong Australian presence in Greece, six crews in all and the media spotlight at this event will focus on Australia’s Mat Belcher, one of the most successful skippers in the Olympic class 470 (Men’s two-handed dinghy). With his talented crew Will Ryan, the highly experienced pair will be looking to regain their World Championship crown.
Belcher won 470 Olympic Gold in London 2012 with Malcolm Page and Belcher and Ryan took Silver at Rio 2016. Backing up for yet another Olympic campaign, the Australian duo started their 2020 journey with a win at the Sailing World Cup in Melbourne last December. They then won against a very strong World Cup field in Hyeres (FRA) in April and in Kiel (GER) in May and in between were leading at the 470 European’s in Monaco when they suffered a freak forestay failure and finished third overall.
Belcher, six times World Champion gave this evaluation of the international Men’s 470 scene.
‘In this first of four years leading up to Tokyo 2020, almost all of the top ten teams have continued.
‘Going into this event, the Greek team Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis, the 2017 World Cup winners and Rio Bronze medallists, sailing in their home waters are definitely amongst the favourites. They have been campaigning intensively since Rio. Miami, Palma, Hyeres, Europeans and World Cup Finals, they are really going for a strong push this year.
All fleets are split into yellow and blue fleets for the 5 race qualification series, and will be reseeded overnight for the final 2 qualification races tomorrow. From Wednesday’s day 3 of racing (on July 12), the fleets will contest six final series races, before the top ten men and women teams advance to the Medal Race on Saturday, July 15.
Anton Dahlberg/Fredrik Bergstrom (SWE) claimed a 1,2,1 to lead the 470 men at the end of the opening day, and sit on a 3 point advantage over Mat Belcher/Will Ryan (AUS) in second. Turkey’s Deniz Cinar/Ates Cinar claimed third spot.
Carrying the world #1 ranking on their bow are Greece’s Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis. The Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medallists have every ability to mount a credible bid for the World Championship and most recently won the Sailing World Cup Final in Santander. Their opening scorecard was a 10,4,2 and 5th overall.
South Africa’s Asenathi Jim has come a long way since he competed in his first international event, the 2010 420 World, including racking up two Olympic appearances in London 2012 and Rio 2016 with crew Roger Hudson. Here, Hudson has switched to coach and Jim, or “Squirrel” as he is more affectionately known, is racing with Sibu Sizatu. An outstanding day for the pair, scoring a 4,6,12 and placing 11th overall. Sizatu is competing in his first ever 470 World Championship having passed through an intense selection process.
“We are a big group and as in the past members get nominated to compete at international events,” explained Jim on the selection system within the South African 470 squad. “There will be new faces every time, as we never know who is the perfect fit and we are training together so hard and everyone deserves a big event like this.”
“It wasn’t easy to be selected to compete here,” continued Sizatu. “There are a lot of crews back at home and I am one of the crews, but we needed a lighter team to come here and we had a trials and I got the slot. It is a really good feeling to be here.
Another performance of note went to 2016 470 Junior World Champions, Giacomo Ferrari/Giulio Calabro from Italy. The pair bucked the fleet by making an appearance inside the top 10 at the 470 Europeans in May, finished 3rd at the Sailing World Cup Final and launched their World Championship assault with a win. Follow-up scores of 14,15 places them in 19th overall.
A standout performance from Hannah Mills/Eilidh McIntyre (GBR), who knocked out three wins in the blue fleet. Mills, the Rio 2016 Olympic medallist has transitioned straight back into the groove, despite stepping out of the 470 this year to race a skiff. After the discard kicked in with race 3, a 3,1,1 scorecard from Slovenia’s Tina Mrak/Veronika Macarol (SLO) puts them on tiebreak in second.
It’s all the experienced campaigners up front, as Amy Seabright/Anna Carpenter (GBR) place in third overall, also on tiebreak over two-time Olympian Xiaoli Wang from China who is racing her 10th World Championships, and is in fourth overall with crew Haiyang Gao.
“It was pretty cool,” grinned McIntyre on the British pair’s dominance. “Two really good starts,” she responded when asked about their success, before continuing, “In the third race we had a bad start, but had really good wheels downwind and just picked a few boats up the second beat and extended on the reach. It was nice!”
Time out of the class has not diminished Mills’ dominance in the 470, although she appreciates their win at the World Cup Final last month was easier. “Yeh, I was well aware that our win in Santander was a smaller fleet and we got away with lots of small mistakes,” reflected Mills. “Coming here we were well aware it was going to be brutal racing anfighting for every point.”
Races will take place over two race courses, for each of the men’s and women’s fleets. Fleets will be seeded for the five race Qualification Series into yellow and blue fleets, before being split into gold and silver for the six race Final Series. The top ten teams in the men’s and women’s fleets will advance to the Medal Races on Saturday 15 July 2017.
10-11 July – Qualification Series (5 races)
12-14 July – Final Series (6 races)
15 July – Medal Races, Closing Ceremony/Prize Giving