With the Road to Rio over, sailors at the beginning of this Olympic cycle are wondering out the best method of getting to Tokyo – be it train, tram or tricycle…! One thing for sure is that a solid performance at the 2017 RS:X Windsurfing World Championships starting next week in Enoshima, Japan, is going to be vital to starting that journey at full speed!
With 111 men and 67 women from over 30 different nations, most who have already descended on the 2020 venue for the sailing competition, this championship is going to set the tone for those looking to set some markers down to the rest of the fleet on the four year journey to Tokyo. The weather has so far provided some spectacular conditions for warm up training before racing commences next Monday, but with Typhoon No.18 getting close to Enoshima over the weekend, competitors could experience more of a local welcome than sushi for dinner, with winds of over 180km per hour potentially forecast.
Within the mens fleet, the obvious contender for glory next week is Dutchman Dorian van Rijsselberghe who comes into the event as reigning Olympic champion having successfully his 2012 title in Rio last year. Van Rijsselberghe will be chased hard by fellow compatriot Kiran Badloe who has been getting better and better over the past few years. This could be the year that the student beats the master?
France have entered the largest team with eleven riders entered. Pierre Le Coq and Louis Giard have both medalled at major championships and will be battling both each other and the rest of the fleet for a position to come home with a medal.
Great Britain have the second largest team, it is missing notable absentee Nick Dempsey who pushed Van Rijssleberghe hard in each of his medals. Coming out of his shadow is a strong team of sailors including Tom Squires and Kieran Martin, who will be hoping for a range of conditions to put in some solid results.
The Israelis and Polish also have entered some strong teams which shows their intent to come away with a medal from next weeks sailing as well as looking to bring on some new talent in the class.
An upside of coming to Asia for a major event is the opportunity this presents to countries with growing RS:X and windsurfing fleets within the region. Over 20 sailors from 6 counties have come to the worlds with the aim of gaining some vital skills before heading to next years World Championship where the first opportunity to qualify for Tokyo will be up for grabs. The RS:X Class are looking forward to growing windsurfing within the region and creating ties with more countries as part of this event.
In the womens fleet, the full podium from Rio is incomplete as Charline Picon from France settles into motherhood – Chinas Peina Chen and Russias Stefania Elfultina are here and ready to win. Some of the previous old guard of the class have moved on or taken a sabbatical which will open up some spaces for new sailors to get into the medal races come next Saturday. Team Madam from Israel, a very young and upcoming group of sailors have individually performed at a number of levels and will be keen to show that they are ready to represent Israel at this event, a traditionally strong windsurfing country.
Despite new faces, old rivalries still exist and it will be fascinating to see how the Spanish duo of Blanca Manchon and Marina Alabau resume their appetite for another gruelling four years of Olympic windsurfing – just one of the battles for the selection that will rage over the next three years.
In some cases; such as with Estonia, Finland and Norway, less of a battle exists at this moment in time, but with strong sailors coming through at Techno and RS:X Youth level, the pathway of sailors coming through to challenge is growing and the number of competitive sailors is only getting greater.
With equipment inspection taking part over Saturday and Sunday, racing starts in earnest (weather permitting) on Monday and will conclude with two World Champions being decided next Saturday. Stay tuned on which path and which turns will be taken as the RS:X fleet look to find their way, however hard or easy, to Tokyo in 2020..!
Text: Bas Edmonds / RS:X Class
Photos: Robert Hajduk / Shuttersail.com
Event website: http://www.rsxclass.org/worlds2017/