With just a few weeks to go to the 2016 RS:X World Championships in Eilat, Israel, the provisional entry list is shaping up to be an intense showdown.
Taking place from 20-27 February and hosted at Eilat Sailing Center, the Worlds will be contested over 5 race days, with the 13 race series unfolding on the stunning waters of the Red Sea. The World Championships will be a platform for athletes to test themselves on a big stage, before stepping up to the biggest challenge of all at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Whilst many athletes are already confirmed to represent their nation on the Olympic startling line, for others it is still all about securing that critical national selection nod for the final guarantee of a spot in Rio, and their performance at the Worlds could make all the difference.
Twenty-three nations are so far represented in the provisional entry lists, with plenty of big players in both the Men and Women fleets, including reigning Olympic Champions, World Champions and top ranked athletes.
This close to the 2016 Olympic Games, every event is a dress rehearsal, but by the time the first race at the RS:X Worlds kicks off on Monday 22 February, there will only be 166 days to go until the Opening Ceremony in Rio. So the Championship will also be one of the last building blocks in preparation, where athletes can measure themselves against their main contenders to assess strengths and weaknesses. Whilst the quest for World Championship medals will be intense, it will also be about preparing final cues ready for race time at the Olympics. With the proximity to the Olympics though, no-one will want to risk injury or fatigue, which no doubt will be in the back of minds.
Windsurfing is one of Israel’s most popular watersports, and the nation’s athletes have achieved global acclaim on Olympic and World Championship stages over many years. Hopes are their sailors will thrive on home waters.
Plenty of firepower is in the tanks of Great Britain’s Bryony Shaw who maintained her place as World #1 after an assertive win at World Cup Miami at the end of January. Shaw claimed silver at the 2015 RS:X Worlds in Oman, 5 points adrift from gold medallist Peina Chen. Victory in Israel would mark her career high point at a World Championship, and add to her bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics.
Shaw will face plenty of competition though, not least from 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist Marina Alabau Neira of Spain. Also sitting right behind the Brit, in second place both at World Cup Miami and on the World Rankings, is the Netherlands’ Lilian De Geus. De Geus also stepped up to the podium at the 2015 RS:X Worlds, securing a bronze medal.
Moving up to world ranked #4 is Poland’s Malgorzata Bialecka, who found her groove in 2015, notching up a silver medal at the Europeans and the 2015 Rio Test Event. Recent form, together with a 5th at the 2015 RS:X Worlds, puts her well within fighting contention for the medals in Israel.
Maayan Davidovich is chasing her second Olympic appearance, and will sail an RS:X Class World Championship for the first time on home waters. Davidovich picked up the bronze medal at the 2014 Worlds, behind Picon and Alabau, but has beaten them since. A bronze at the 2013 RS:X Worlds too, that time beaten by Shaw and another Israel superstar Lee-El Korzits. This time around, Davidovich has had plenty of time to train on home waters, and will have her nation’s hopes pinned on her shoulders.
2012 Olympic Silver Medallist Tuuli Petäjä-Sirén of Finland sits at #15 on the world rankings, and after an all-consuming 2015 season of competition which ended with a disappointing 28th place at the 2015 RS:X Worlds, is intent on upgrading her result in Eilat, so has been focused on training. Outside of her Olympic medal, a 4th place counts as her career best at a Worlds bets
Facing off against the big names are plenty of other sailors, all ready and able to make their claim on the leaderboard.
The new world #1 in the RS:X Men is Aichen Wang who has stepped up to the RS:X headlines in the past couple of years. His silver medal at the 2015 RS:X Worlds and third at World Cup Miami , built on his victory at last year’s Rio Test Event. Two-time Olympian Wang has super speed and is certainly the hot favourite, although with so much depth in performance, the fight will be tightly balanced with a host of other showmen.
The 2012 Olympic Champion, Dorian Van Rijsselberge of the Netherlands, goes into the Worlds with the most recent win to his credit; gold at World Cup Miami. He won the 2011 RS:X Worlds and has also stood on the podium in 2009, 2013 and 2014. This hugely experience contender knows exactly when to pull his top performances out of the bag.
Defending RS:X Men World Champion and world #14 Pierre Le Coq of France was unstoppable in Oman, leading the Worlds from start to finish. He will again face team mate and 2014 RS:X World Champion Julien Bontemps as their battle for Olympic selection closes in on the final few events. Bontemps carried France’s hopes at the 2012 Olympics, finishing 5th. Both though will be challenged by a host of other young French talent, including Thomas Goyard whose performance escalated last year.
World#2 Ivan Pastor claimed the headlines with a win at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Final last year, but is still to claim his first medal at an RS:X Worlds, despite many years on the cusp of glory. Pastor will be bringing all his 18 years of international event experience onto the race track and knows what it takes to win.
Great Britain is yet to name its representative to Rio 2016, but if one of the nation’s contenders makes an appearance on the podium in Israel, they will be in a strong position. World #5 Tom Squires played out a mixed season in 2015, going from podium results to finishes well down in the fleet, showing form a little less predictable than rival and four-time Olympian Nick Dempsey. Dempsey sits at world #10, and despite being off the podium for the last two years, won the RS:X Worlds in 2013, just a few months after wrapping up silver at the 2012 Olympics, which was an upgrade from Olympic bronze in 2004.
Ever strong in windsurfing, Poland is fielding four sailors in the RS:X Men, led by national hero and seasoned athlete Przemyslaw Miarczynski. He was off form at last year’s Worlds in a shocker of a result, compared to his silver medal at the 2014 Worlds and bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. Miarczynski’s third place in Miami last month is a boost as he aims to again exert his superiority over Pawel Tarnowski, who beat him at the 2015 Worlds year and sits ahead on the world rankings. Miarczynski will hunt down his opponents as he takes every opportunity to confirm what would be his fifth Olympic appearance.
Nimrod Mashiah is currently Israel’s top ranked windsurfer at #39, but don’t let what could be considered a low ranking undervalue this player, as he has not competed at that many events in the past year. Mashiah secured bronze at both the 2010 and 2011 RS: X Worlds, and silver in 2009. Familiarity with home waters may also play in his favour. One of the youngest competing will be Israel’s Yoav Omer, a 17 year old who will no doubt rise to the challenge thrown down by Mashiah and the other big names. Omer has already tasted success, winning gold at the 2015 RS:X Youth Worlds.
Come the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, there will be 36 athletes in the RS:X Men and 26 in the RS:X Women competing. Nations so far qualified are detailed at: www.sailing.org/olympics/rio2016
Most of the Rio 2016 Olympic qualification places have been claimed by nations, with just the Asian and European Continental Qualification Events to go. The ASAF Cup in Abu Dhabi and the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Mallorca , will see one spot on offer for one Asian and one European nation in each of the RS:X Men and RS:X Women.
Source: Icarus Sailing Media