The Finn class is not only the physically toughest of all the Olympic classes, but the level of the competition is perhaps at its highest level for a long time. In Part 2 of our preview of the Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018, we look at some more of the main contenders and challengers and the defender.
The Kiwi pair of Josh Junior and Andy Maloney returned to the Olympic campaign trail late last year. After both being part of the winning team in the the 2017 America’s Cup, Maloney and 2016 Olympian Junior teamed up to work and train together. They immediately began to see some results at their first events in Europe. Maloney picked up bronze in Palma, but then Junior won one of the most competitive events of the year, in Kiel, as most of the fleet gathered there for the final big event before Aarhus.
Maloney fully understands the task ahead of them. “It'll definitely be the toughest Finn event I've done, and with Olympic spots and a world title up for grabs everyone will be fighting hard. The venue can be very tricky and no one nails it every race so it's going to be a challenging week of racing both mentally and physically.
“Aarhus has been turning on the hot weather so far with fairly light winds. It has been great for training, but it will be interesting to see what the regatta has in store for us and whether this long sunny spell can continue.
“All of the top guys are going really fast as you'd expect a week out from the Worlds. The experimenting that sailors do earlier in the year with equipment and sails has all been put aside and everyone has their best gear on in the final build up. It's a case of not overdoing it in the final week but firing coming race one, it's exciting times.
“Our preparation has been going well, and over the last week it's been coming together nicely. We've been working hard to understand the venue better and to get our heads around the best way to race well here. Nothing special has been happening but I'm continuing to learn and feel more and more at home in the Finn, which is exciting ahead of the big event.”
After finishing as runner-up at the 2018 Europeans in Cádiz, in Hyeres and in Palma, Nicholas Heiner is hoping to go one better in Aarhus, but knows it won’t be easy.
“I think especially with Aarhus being a really shifty place it doesn’t matter whether it’s onshore or offshore. The onshore conditions so far have been really challenging and shifty and but nothing compared to the offshore days which are absolute madness.
“I think it will be a high scoring event so trying to keep it low and don’t have crazy big ones, but we just need to focus on the process and race it leg by leg and see where we end up. But for sure we are going to fight for that gold medal.
“Of course it’s like any other world championship or any other event but it’s the big one for sailing and I think it will be a great event. We have been here the last few weeks training and you see the whole empathy here and how stoked everybody is in Aarhus. I think it will be a great event.”
Heiner also has to contend with the return of the three-time Finn Olympian and 2016 European Champion, Pieter-Jan Postma, who surprised most people after quietly getting back into the boat in the early summer. He had not raced the Finn since Rio.
Heiner continued, “After coming three times second this year, I am really motivated to step it for this worlds. Of course it’s the worlds so you want to do well, but for us it’s part of our Olympic selection along with the world cup in Enoshima, Japan, so a good result in Aarhus will set me up nicely for that event and hopefully we can tick off the Olympic selection criteria this coming month.
“We have been training a lot in Aarhus and were also in Kiel with quite a big fleet and its great to see guys like Slingsby come back into Olympic sailing and choosing the Finn class. The more better guys there are the more fun it actually is, and you want to beat the good guys so hopefully I can finally get one up on Tom after sailing the laser against him and he clinched all the world titles.
“It’s a bit of a shame Giles Scott won’t be here. Like I say you want to beat the best and he is still consistently the best in the class, but so far Jorge Zarif, Alican Kaynar, Zsombor Berecz and the Kiwis have all been sailing really well. It will be a good fight and I think in the Finn class, from what I have seen in the last year and a half, everybody is stepping it up and it will be a great competition.”
While the Rio gold medalist may be missing, the bronze medalist, Caleb Paine, from the USA is very much taking part.
“This is the biggest regatta besides the Olympics and all the good guys are here. It’s a bit unfortunate that Giles is not showing up but besides that it’s great. We’ve had some good training camps here leading up to the regatta and it’s a great place to sail. I feel decent in the place but you never really know how you are doing until it starts. It’s possibly going to be light for the first few days, so anything could happen. It will be exciting to watch.”
He has a full programme up to and beyond Tokyo, having just signed onto the US America’s Cup campaign, American Magic.
“I start sailing with American Magic, led by Terry Hutchinson, as early as September, so right after this event. Also Luke Muller is on the team, so the whole US Finn team is on board American Magic, so that’s pretty exciting.
“We will be spending time between the Finn and the America’s Cup. There will be very little time off between now and the Games. There is maybe one month off in October, otherwise it’s full time sailing all the way to the Olympics.
“We have a few America’s Cup guys in the fleet now with Giles and the Kiwis, it’s an exciting group and its nice to see that there is some professional sailing after Finn sailing, especially in something like the America’s Cup. Without a doubt those boats are pretty phenomenal.”
He doesn’t think the America’s Cup will distract him from the Finn campaign. “Not at all. The team has been really supportive of our Olympic sailing and that comes first and as soon as the Games are over it’s full time into America’s Cup sailing.”
Other front-runners could include:
Ioannis Mitakis from Greece was European champion after a light wind regatta in 2012. Always at or near the front, he could very easily sneak an Olympic spot.
Piotr Kula from Poland has also been sailing well. He qualified for London in 2012, but then just failed to make the grade for Rio.
Alican Kaynar, from Turkey, has been one of the most consistent sailors over the past few years and it would be a surprise if he were not pushing the front.
Tapio Nirkko from Finland has already done three Olympics, with a best place finish of 10th in London. Last year he was pushed hard by the much younger Oskari Muhonen, who won the U23 World Championship.
Facundo Olezza, from Argentina, won two races at the Rio Olympics and is one of the biggest rising stars in the class. His coach Luca Devoti considers him one of the best talents he has trained.
The Spanish sailors Alejandro Muscat and Pablo Guitian Sarria have been putting in a lot of work, and both are capable of securing a spot in Tokyo.
If you have been counting, that’s 23 sailors that could be considered to be top 10 favourites. And there is still one more to go. Only the top eight nations will get a spot in Tokyo. So the task ahead will not be an easy one for any of them.
And last but not least, the defending world champion is Max Salminen. He has already tasted Olympic gold in the Star class with Freddy Lööf in 2012, but was very disappointed with sixth place in the Finn in Rio. He vowed to come back stronger and within a year was world champion, winning the Finn Gold Cup last year on Lake Balaton in Hungary.
“It feels fantastic to defend the world title here and we’ve been preparing for this for a while. We were here last year and have spent a lot of time here, so we’ll see if that turns out good or bad. This bay is a tricky place to sail with lots of different winds and now this hot summer seems to have changed it a little bit so it’s different from the standard conditions, so we’ll see what the racing days hold, but I am super excited.
“Apart from Giles missing it is a really good fleet so will be exciting to see what happens. The whole season had been good competition, right from the Europeans to now.”
On staying consistent with two fleets, “I hope it hope it won’t be too different but it feels a bit weird after all these years in the Star and the Finn not to be sailing against everyone all the time. I think you just have to be in reasonable shape for the finals, and kind of every boat that you overtake counts double in the qualification stage, and of course the reverse is also true.”
Commenting on the diversity in the fleet, “There are a lot of guys here that you don’t really know what to expect from them, so that’s exciting as well, both the comebacks and the new guys we’ve haven’t much of seen yet – so that will be interesting.”
So that’s it. The tortuous track towards Tokyo starts right here, well tomorrow at least, and there is no turning back. Racing is scheduled to start Thursday, at 12.00.