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The Day before the 2020 Forward WIP European Championship

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2020 Forward Wip European Championship 49er, 49er FX, Nacra 17
2020 Forward Wip European Championship 49er, 49er FX, Nacra 17

Some of the world’s best high-performance sailors are ready and raring to go for day one of the 2020 Forward WIP European Championship at Lake Attersee, Austria. With the first qualifying races due to take place on Tuesday 29 September, the Union Yacht Club Attersee is hosting 30 Nacra 17 catamarans, 40 crews in the 49erFX and 60 in the 49er skiff. Racing will take place from September 28 to October 4.

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Among the front runners for contention in the foiling catamaran division, the Nacra 17, are the reigning World Champions from Great Britain, John Gimson and Anna Burnet. The reigning Olympic Champions from Argentina, Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli, have spent a good deal of the northern hemisphere summer in Europe because flying to and from Argentina remains very difficult under Covid 19 travel restrictions.

However, local fans will be cheering for the Rio Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Zajac from Vienna, now sailing with Barbara Matz. “Many friends have asked me if they can come to watch but no spectators are allowed at the venue, only sailors,” said Zajac. “The good thing is the lake is quite narrow and for sure they will have some action to see.” The Sunday before competition saw Lake Attersee at its finest, with the three fleets organising informal racing to make the most of the northerly wind that was blowing between 8 and 20 knots under a sunny blue sky.”

Another of Austria’s Olympic hopefuls, 49er helmsman Benjamin Bildstein, said you could actually ski and sail on the same day if you wanted. “My friends were telling me to come skiing after 40cm of snow fell on the mountains here,” he said. “We normally don’t get that kind of snow until November.”

Unfortunately Monday brought very different conditions, constant drizzle and flat calm, with only the most dedicated of Swedish 49erFX crews going out for a drift around the lake. The race committee made an early decision to cancel practice racing and most teams took the opportunity for some down time before the serious stuff begins on Tuesday. Sailors are simply grateful that the organisers at Union Yacht Club Attersee were able to make a European Championship happen at all. “Normally these events are two or three years of planning,” said Zajac. “They have done an incredible job to make this regatta happen.” Everyone - sailors, coaches, organisers - had to bring proof of a negative test for Covid 19 before they could register at the venue. The wearing of masks in public areas is enforceable with a 5-point penalty on any team deemed to be in contravention of the regulations.

While most athletes have already booked their tickets to the Olympic Games, the battle for Italian Nacra 17 selection continues to rage between two world title winners of recent years - Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (2018 world champions) versus Vittorio Bissaro and Maelle Frascari (2019 world champions). Although Tita and Banti seemed to have lost some of their shine in the past 18 months, the lockdown period appears to have done them a lot of good if their recent dominant victory at Kiel Week is anything to go by. The pressure is on these two teams to put in a good performance on a lake where consistent results will be hard to guarantee.

Former 49er World Champion and Bronze medallist from Athens 2004, Chris Draper, made a rare visit to the Olympic scene where he learned his trade almost 20 years ago. The British sailor has since gone on to carve a career in the America’s Cup and now SailGP, although his flying visit to Attersee was in his capacity as a mentor to Germany’s top Nacra team, Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer. “It’s great to be back here,” said Draper. “The sailing is so pure, it’s a fantastic circuit and my 49er sailing really set me up for everything I’ve done in my sailing career ever since.”

Among the expected frontrunners for the 49erFX European title are the defending champions and World Champions of 2018 and 2019, Annemieke Bekkering and Annette Duetz of the Netherlands. The reigning World Champions from Spain, Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barcelo, are also ready to race, along with the recent winners of Kiel Week, Tina Lutz and Susann Beucke. That performance two weeks ago was sufficient to earn them a place at the Olympics for Germany. The winner of the men’s 49er division at Kiel was the Danish team of Jonas Warrer and Jakob Precht Jensen.

Back in 2008 Warrer won a predominantly light-airs Olympic Regatta to take Olympic gold; 12 years later he’s in his 40s but the victory in Kiel puts Warrer right up there as one of the favourites for success this week. Local heroes Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl will have a lot of motivation to perform well on home waters. Others to watch are Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Marra, and the 2018 World Champions from Croatia, Sime and Mihovil Fantela.
 

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