Melbourne Australia, Feb 3, 2020: Olympic selection, vindication, bragging rights and psychological advantage – these will be the motivations for some of the 131 sailors from 45 countries competing at the 2020 World Laser Standard Championships in Melbourne, beginning on Tuesday February11, 2020.
Five sailors boast a total of nine Olympic medals among them. Leading the way with five medals – two gold, two silver and a bronze – is Brazilian legend Robert Scheidt, who was Olympic Champion in 1996 and 2004 and won the silver at Sydney 2000 after an epic battle with Ben Ainslie. Now aged 46, Scheidt is not as competitive in the single-handed dinghy as he once was, but on the tricky Sandringham course, no-one will be prepared to write him off.
Vindication may be the motivation for 2016 Rio Olympic Champion, Tom Burton of Australia. Burton is the defending world champion but was controversially overlooked for the Tokyo Olympic team, with his place going to Perth sailor Matt Wearn.
“I am obviously disappointed not to be able to defend my title in the Olympics,” Burton said. “Winning a World Championships was always a goal for my Laser career and to have done that last year under such pressure was a great feeling. No one can stop me from attempting to defend the title again this year.
“My preparation hasn’t been the best, but I have many years of laser sailing experience and know how to compete at the front.”
Australian Laser coach, Michael Blackburn, who has mentored the last two Olympic Champions to their gold medals, says that getting the selection sorted early was in the best interests of the team.
“It’s certainly nice to have selection out of the way and the opportunity to focus singularly on Wearny,” he said. “The Worlds are one of the two key events for him this year and he’s already made some good progress along areas we’ve been working on over the last few months, so he’s looking forward to the big test of the Worlds.
“Of course, the Worlds is being used by many other countries as a key selection regatta, so it’ll be interesting to watch multiple little battles going on within the fleet. We expect this will strengthen the level of competition and create a larger list of potential winners – especially the 15 sailors competing who have previously held top three rankings.”
Among the countries yet to select their Laser competitor for Tokyo is Great Britain. Nick Thompson was the 2015 and 2016 World Champion but failed to win a medal in Rio. He is being pushed hard for the GBR nomination, particularly by Elliot Hanson and Sam Whaley. Thompson entered the Australian Championships, which were also held at Sandringham, with the aim of getting some vital race course knowledge under his belt. He finished fifth and hopes that the local knowledge will work for him in the coming week.
Training partners Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) and Pavlos Kontides (CYP) arrived in Melbourne later than most competitors, but will certainly be two sailors to watch. Stipanovic was beaten for the Rio gold medal by Tom Burton in controversial circumstances, when the two sailors were locked in a pre-start match race. It appeared that a jury boat created a wash that disadvantaged the Croatian just before the gun and Burton was able to sail away for the win.
Kontides also knows all about match racing in a Laser medal race after he was sailed off the course by Australian Tom Slingsby at London 2012. Slingsby said afterwards that had Kontides not been guaranteed the silver medal, he would not have put as much pressure on, but it was a good lesson for the Cypriot who became his country’s first ever Olympic medallist.
As with any world championship sailing event in Australia, there is always a pesky New Zealander trying to deny the home country victory. In this case, it is Rio bronze medallist Sam Meech, who is ranked third in the world behind Tom Burton and Matt Wearn. Meech is one of five Kiwis who has made the trip across the ditch.
The home country, as always, will have the biggest entry list. Eighteen Australians will be on the start line, with the battle between Matt Wearn and Tom Burton the main focus, but with training partners such as Luke Elliott, Mitch Kennedy and Finn Alexander also aiming to impress coaches and selectors.
The event begins with a practice race on Monday February 10, followed by six days of two races per day from February 11 to 16, weather permitting.
In an Olympic year and with such a quality fleet, the racing is expected to be very close, with no-one willing to predict a winner.