Australians out to defend 470 and Laser titles at Sailing World Cup Final in Abu Dhab

Abu Dhabi sets the stage for the conclusion of the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup this week, with racing starting on Thursday, 29 October on the waters around the UAE capital’s Lulu Island.

More than 150 competitors from 39 countries have descended on the UAE capital for the ISAF Sailing World Cup Final, including eight Australian Sailing Team (AST) and Squad (ASS) athletes, who will compete in the Men’s 470, Laser and Laser Radial.

The four-day ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta, taking place from 29 October to 1 November 2015, will allow the teams an opportunity to race within a fleet limited to just 20 boats. Those who go into action in Abu Dhabi will be competing for World Cup titles in eight of the ten Olympic classes, as well as kitesurfing, and the top three finishers in each will earn a share of a USD$220k prize fund.

Amongst the defending World Cup title winners are Australian Sailing Team’s Mat Belcher (QLD) and Will Ryan (QLD), who just a couple of weeks ago won their third 470 World title at the 470 World Championships in Israel. It was Olympic gold medallist Mat Belcher’s sixth successive 470 title. 

The pair also won the Rio Olympic Sailing Test Event in August and after two wins at the two most important events of the year, they are looking forward to return to Abu Dhabi for some additional racing practice.

“We’re looking forward to the World Cup final here in Abu Dhabi, where we had a great event last year. But it will not all be about performance and results,” Mat Belcher said. “Our World Championships a couple of weeks ago as well as the pre-Olympic test event in Rio in August were our main focus and it was great to come away with a win at both of them. Now we’re looking forward to regrouping and also enjoying a bit of what Abu Dhabi has to offer as well as to get some good sailing in.”

Australian Sailing Squad’s Alexander and Patrick Conway (NSW) are the second boat in the small fleet of only 11 crews. They qualified for the event after winning the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Melbourne in December.

In the Laser, last year’s World Cup Final winner Tom Burton (NSW) has also returned to Abu Dhabi and is looking forward to get back into racing after his bronze medal at the Rio Olympic Sailing Test Event in August. Burton won the event last year and won the ISAF Sailing World Cup in both Melbourne and Hyères.

“It’s nice to go into the event as the defending champion. We have a similar fleet here to last time and it was super close racing. We had really good conditions last time, but everyone was saying that it wasn’t usually like that so anything could happen this time,” Tom Burton said. “I haven’t done an event since the Olympic test event in August, so I expect the first few days in the bigger fleet to be a bit of a shock to the system, but I’m sure we’ll get on top of it and it would be great to win this event two times in a row.”

There are three Australian Lasers in the 20-boat fleet and Australian Sailing Team’s Matt Wearn (WA) and Australian Sailing Squad’s Ryan Palk (QLD) will be out to chase their teammate.

“Going into it the aim will be to medal, to push TB (Tom Burton) again and to solidify what I’ve done this year already,” Matt Wearn said. “It also is the opportunity to get a light wind regatta in and I still got to learn a bit in those conditions, so that’s the main goal of this regatta.”

Wearn (WA), who came second at the Sailing World Cup in Melbourne, third in Miami and second at Weymouth/Portland, has just overtaken Tom Burton and moved into the World #1 position on the ISAF World Sailing rankings. With the rankings not having much significance overall they are still an extra motivation for both sailors.

“The World #1 is a bit of a weird one,” Matt Wearn said. “I thought they (ISAF) would wait until after Abu Dhabi to do the rankings. But at the end of the day it’s a big achievement and I’m pretty happy with how it’s showing how my sailing has been going throughout the year.”

And current World #2 Tom Burton added: “The World Rankings don’t really mean very much, and I was even saying that when I was World #1. It’s all about sailing well at all the regattas and it does put a bit of pressure on you, people do talk about it and I do want to perform well. I know how the rankings work and the Abu Dhabi results won’t really change them. We’ll drop our Abu Dhabi result from last year, which I obviously won, so I can only stay the same points and can’t move up. So I won’t catch Wearny at this event but that’s how they work.”

Having two Australian Laser sailors in the World top 2 with under one year to go to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games underlines the strength of Australian Sailing’s Laser team coached by Olympic bronze medallist Michael Blackburn.

Australian Sailing Squad’s Laser Radial sailor Ashley Stoddart (QLD) completes the Australian contingent in Abu Dhabi and she will use this event as a practice regatta in the lead up to the Laser Radial World Championships in Al Mussanah, Oman (20-26 November 2015).

The ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta marks the climax of a World Cup journey which began in Melbourne, Australia last December before continuing with other qualifying events in Miami, USA, Hyères, France, Weymouth and Portland, Great Britain and finally Qingdao, China last month.

The official opening ceremony will take place at 18:30 (local time) on Wednesday 28 October at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club. The four days of competition starts on Thursday, 29 October with the top-ten Medal Race scheduled for Sunday, 1 November.

– Cora Zillich/AST

ISAF Sailing World Cup Abu Dhabi – AST & ASS entries:

470M (Men’s Two Person Dinghy)
Mat Belcher (QLD/QAS) / Will Ryan (QLD/QAS) – AST
Alexander Conway (NSW) / Patrick Conway (NSW) – ASS

Laser (Men's One Person Dinghy)
Tom Burton (NSW) – AST
Matthew Wearn (WA/WAIS) – AST
Ryan Palk (QLD/QAS) – ASS

Laser Radial (Women's One Person Dinghy)
Ashley Stoddart (QLD/QAS) – ASS

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