Up for the Test – Aussies ready to attack Olympic Test Event

When it comes to the Olympics, Australian sailors have always punched above their weight. Starting with the first medal at Melbourne 1956, the inaugural Gold in Tokyo the decade after, then of course the glut of medals over the past four Games.

One year out from Paris 2024, to be sailed in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, and the latest generation of Aussies are ready to take on the best of the rest at the Olympic Test Event. There are four new classes, some fresh faces to go with that, and some very skilled operators in a team that is diverse, and very much bound by common and long-standing goals.

Five former Olympians are in the team of 13 sailors, and four of them were on the dais when the anthems were played. Interestingly, of those five sailors, only three of them competed at Tokyo. Nia Jerwood was the skipper of the Women’s 470 in Tokyo, but this is now a mixed class, and her crewman is Conor Nicholas.

Olivia Price earned Silver at London 2012 as part of the famed Women’s Keelboat crew. Price is definitely a very interesting case in point, for the seasoned campaigner has brought her immense desire to the 49erFX skiff class. Price’s for’ard hand is the youthful Evie Haseldine, with the pair working hard to earn the right to represent Australia at the Test Event.

Presently, they are just outside the all-important top ten, which is the cut-off mark for the critical medal race at regattas like these, so it is clear just exactly what their mission is to be at Marseille. “It’s exciting to be selected for the test event this year with Evie. It’s a unique opportunity to be racing in the Olympic waters of Marseille, and it’s one we’re definitely looking forward to since our last major regatta in Hyères in April,” said Price.

“We’re using this test event to practice our processes and test ourselves in the Olympic-style fleet. The Australian FX squad has spent the last few weeks in Europe with some great training groups. So now it’s time to put what we know into practice and see how we’ve progressed along with the rest of the world.”

Darren Bundock has two silver medals from the high-flying Tornado class: the first from Sydney 2000 with John Forbes, and the second from Beijing with Glenn Ashby. Lisa Darmanin was the silver medallist in Rio in the Nacra 17 she still sails (now with Bundock).

Matt Wearn OAM is the reigning gold medallist from Tokyo in the ILCA 7 (formerly Laser). “I’m feeling good and had a nice lead in to the event with plenty of time on the bay to get in tune with the conditions. No need to do anything different. Treating this as any other event, with a great opportunity to learn about the venue.”

The Men’s 49er is breath-taking in its pace, and cutthroat in its competitiveness. Much like the rest of the team this European summer, Jim Colley and Shaun Connor have posted some significant results to date. A fifth place at the start of season back in Palma has been backed up with a Silver in Hyères more recently.

Ahead of the racing Connor said, “Jim and I have been here in Marseille from early June getting to know this tricky venue and have experienced a range of conditions. Following on from Hyères we have targeted areas that we are looking to build upon, and the work has been done. Now it’s time to get down to business and enjoy the racing.”

ILCA 6 sailor Zoe Thomson is a quiet achiever, and her breakout result of a Silver at Palma has been rewarded with a chance to be part of the smaller, individual representative team for Marseille.

The excitement and diversity of the racing in the foiling board classes has taken a little bit of getting used to by some of the Australian Sailing Team sailors, but race wins and top ten overall finishes have soon flowed. Last season Breiana Whitehead was 6th at the European Championships and 7th at the World Championships. Scott Whitehead will represent Australia in the Men’s division, and this will be a major opportunity for Whitehead to elevate to the top level.

Grae Morris was 6th at the iQFOiL European Championship in May, and the last 12 months has also seen him collect his maiden race win. It is a big stage, and he has a big heart, so the future looks more than promising.

Iain Brambell, the AST High Performance Director, punctuated the importance, “This is a full-dress rehearsal in preparation for July 2024. The athletes, coaches and performance support team will utilise this opportunity to fully simulate our Games-time on and off-water practices. The value of the Test Event cannot be underestimated.”

“Apart from the learnings out on the water, this is also a highly unique opportunity to come together as a Games Team, in support of one another across the Olympic classes, with the unyielding appetite to acquire intel and accumulate competitive advantage within the simulated Olympic environment.”

The action commences on Sunday night, July 9 and concludes July 16.

Visit the event website for full results.

The full Australian Team for the Olympic Test Event is:

49erFX: Olivia Price & Evie Haseldine
49er: Jim Colley & Shaun Connor
Formula Kite – Female: Breiana Whitehead
Formula Kite – Male: Scott Whitehead
ILCA 6: Zoe Thomson
ILCA 7: Matthew Wearn OAM
iQFOiL – Male: Grae Morris
Mixed 470: Nia Jerwood & Conor Nicholas
Nacra 17: Lisa Darmanin and Darren Bundock

Words by John Curnow.

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