49er Worlds – China jumps to early FX lead and USA flying

Marina Rubicón, Lanzarote (Canary Islands), 5 March 2024

Xiaoyu Hu and Mengyuan Shan have taken a surprise early lead in the women’s skiff competition on day one of the 49er and 49erFX World Championships in Lanzarote.

With the 51-boat FX fleet divided into Yellow and Blue qualifying groups for the first three days, the groups headed off towards two separate race courses. Few could have predicted just how different those courses would prove to be.

As they set out from Marina Rubicon, the breeze appeared to be blowing strong, and it certainly stayed that way for Blue Group on the Pechiguera (Lighthouse) Course. As the waves grew in size the number of downwind capsizes increased. Staying upright was a challenge.

Returning from the Yellow Group racing on Papagayo (Parrot) Course, the defending World Champions from Sweden, Vilma Bobeck and Rebecca Netzler, could scarcely believe they were racing at the same venue. “We were bending our legs a lot, sometimes standing up in the boat, waiting for the lull to pass and to catch the next gust,” said Bobeck. “It was tricky conditions. I think we might have liked the other course more.”

Some of the competitors crashing their way around the Lighthouse Course would have happily swapped places with the Swedes. Runners-up in last year’s Worlds and winners of the previous two, Odile van Aanholt and Annette Duetz came back with some big grins after a hair-raising couple of races. “I took a seasickness pill before we went out today,” said van Aanholt. “That was a full-on day of skiff racing and we are going to sleep well tonight.” The Dutch managed to avoid the worst of the minefield on the Lighthouse Course to score 1,3 from their races.

Alicia Fras and Elena Barrio Garcia have been making waves in the warm-up training regattas before the Worlds and today the young Spanish displayed signs of greatness. They were doing well in the first race before a nosedive and pitchpole at the bottom of the course in the ever-growing waves and had to settle for a 10th. But in the next race they didn’t put a foot wrong and took the winner’s gun. 

It was also a good outing for the Italians Jana Germani and Giorgia Bertuzzi scoring a 3,2 to put them in third overall. Along with the Dutch the highest-performing team of the day were the Chinese, Hu and Shan, who have showed glimmers of world-class ability at past regattas. They finished 17th at last year’s Worlds in The Hague and then cemented their reputation as the best team from Asia, winning the Asian Games in China and the Asian Championships in Thailand at the end of 2023.

On the strength of today’s performance, could the Chinese start to challenge the best in the world? Too early to say, probably, but a very consistent start for Hu and Shan in very inconsistent conditions.

This event is part of the selection and qualification trials for many nations including the USA. While the men’s 49er fleet determined their Olympic destiny at a domestic trial in Miami, US Sailing is using international regattas in Europe to decide the 49erFX trials.

Four years ago at the Worlds in Australia, Paris Henken and Anna Tobias narrowly missed out to Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea in a Medal Race showdown for Olympic selection. Today, on opposite sides of Qualifying, these two rival teams both posted a 5th place in their opening heats. Roble and Shea scored a superior second race finish of 7th compared with Henken and Tobias’s 13th, but this looks set to be another match race for that USA spot at Paris 2024.

While Paris Henken is engaged in a battle for Olympic qualification, her brother Hans has already secured the place with helmsman Ian Barrows after winning the domestic trials by a single point from Andrew Mollerus and Ian McDiarmid. Despite missing out on Paris 2024, Mollerus and McDiarmid are pushing on with their skiff campaign towards Los Angeles 2028. At the end of three races it has been a good day for the American squad with Mollerus and McDiarmid in top spot by a point ahead of defending World Champions from The Netherlands, Bart Lambriex and Floris van der Werken, who in turn are a point ahead of Barrows and Henken in third overall.

The Dutch are relieved to have come through the first day of tricky racing with a good set of scores. “We would probably have rather raced on the other course,” smiled Lambriex. “Not because it was windier but because it was probably more stable than what we had on our course. At least the breeze had shifted around to the right compared with what the girls had earlier so I don’t think we had it as tough as them in the morning,” he said, pointing to the Los Ajaches mountain range a few kilometres inland of the Lanzarote coast. With northerly breeze forecast throughout the week, the 561-metre mountain peak is likely to play a big part in the speed and direction of the breeze and the outcome of these Worlds.

There a number of other standout performances today, notably the British team of James Grummett and Rhos Hawes who have missed Olympic selection but are another team pushing for LA 2028. They sit in 4th overall ahead of Mikolaj Staniul and Jakub Sztorch in 5th, a useful start for this Polish team in a tough selection trials for Paris 2024. 

It’s a similar forecast of northerly offshore breeze for day two, so we can expect some big changes on the leaderboard as the 126 teams strive to achieve the almost impossible task of staying consistent.

The Lanzarote International Regatta is organized by Marina Rubicón and has the collaboration of the Royal Canarian Sailing Federation, as well as the institutional support of the Tourism area of the Lanzarote Cabildo through the sports product European Sports Destination (managed by SPEL-Turismo Lanzarote), Promotur Turismo de Canarias, the Yaiza City Council and the private entities Dinghycoach, Naviera Armas and Cabrera Medina (Cicar).

Written by Andy Rice

Event Website HERE

Results HERE

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