Andy Rice takes a look at the Tokyo Olympic sailing line up and picks out who he thinks are the likely contenders for sailing medals this summer
The Olympic Sailing Regatta in Tokyo will be a high-level experiment in who has spent the past 18 months of pandemic time the most effectively.
How much will the lack of regatta time have affected the ‘pecking order’ in the 10 sailing events? Here’s our take on who we think is going to be vying for the medals in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic sailing venue, Enoshima, which could bring a huge variety of conditions, from light and shifty offshore, to huge rolling surf and big breeze.
America’s Cup winners earlier this year, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) now turn their attention back to Olympic sailing in Tokyo as they try to defending their Rio 2016 gold. The current Olympic Champions remain the favourites to win 49er skiff gold for New Zealand.
Bronze medallists from Rio 2016, Erik Heil and Tommy Ploessel (GER), always turn it on for the big occasion.
Other serious podium contenders are Diego Botin and Iago Marra (ESP), Great Britain’s 2017 World Champions Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell, along with strong teams from Denmark, Croatia and Austria.
The 49erFX gold and silver medallists from Rio 2016 – respectively Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze and New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech – will be in contention for the Tokyo podium.
They will face strong competition from Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barcelo (ESP, 2020 World Champions) the Dutch duo of Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED, 2018 World Champions) and 2020 European Champions Tina Lutz and Susann Beucke (GER).
Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey (GBR) have always been strong in the breeze, and one of the USA’s few realistic medal hopes lies with Steph Roble and Maggie Shea (USA).
Maybe it’s no coincidence that a number of the leading medal contenders in the Nacra 17 foiling catamaran scraped through really tight national selection battles.
Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (ITA) have set the pace for much of the past five years since the Nacra 17 went fully-foiling, winning the World Championships in 2018.
The 2020 World Champions John Gimson and Anna Burnet (GBR) have been one of the strongest teams of the past two years.
All three medal-winning crews from Rio 2016 – Argentina, Australia and Austria – are real contenders for a podium repeat. Just a few weeks short of his 60th birthday, can Santiago Lange (ARG), again crewed by Cecilia Carranza Saroli, repeat his gold medal winning heroics of Rio 2016?
With seven world titles to his name, Mat Belcher (AUS) is the most successful 470 sailor of all time. Belcher, with crew Will Ryan, are looking to improve on the silver medal from Rio 2016 and are many people’s favourites for Tokyo gold.
Jordi Xammar and Nico Rodriguez (ESP) have set a new standard in downwind dynamic movement in the 470 fleet, with the rest of the world working hard to match their work rate and mastery of working the waves.
This year’s World Champions, Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergström (SWE), could become Sweden’s first ever 470 Olympic Champions. Others to watch are New Zealand, France and Great Britain.
The gold and bronze medal winning helms from Rio 2016 have teamed up with new crews for the Tokyo cycle, and the fight for the top of the podium in the women’s 470 looks set to be a duel between Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) and Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz (FRA).
However, the Olympic Regatta is never quite so clear cut and the recently crowned World Champions, Silvia Mas and Patricia Cantero (ESP), look well placed to maintain a strong Spanish tradition in this classic doublehander.
Local fans will be all eyes on 2018 World Champions Ai Kondo and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) to win a medal on home waters.
This will be the first Olympic Regatta for almost 20 years when GBR will not be clear favourite to win Finn gold.
Defending Olympic Champion Giles Scott (GBR) is still very much in the frame although the distractions of the British America’s Cup campaign mean the four-time World Champion is no longer head and shoulders above the rest.
Third at the recent Worlds and 2019 World Champion Josh Junior (NZL) will be considered the marginal favourite with Hungary’s 2018 World Champion Zsombor Berecz (HUN) not far behind.
Others to watch include the consistent Nicholas Heiner (NED) and the youngest Finn competitor Joan Cardona (ESP).
Laser (ILCA 7) Men
Impossible to choose a clear favourite in the ILCA 7 singlehander, formerly known as the Laser.
Matt Wearn (AUS) beat the reigning Olympic Champion Tom Burton to Australian selection.
London 2012 silver medallist and twice World Champion Pavlos Kontides (CYP) is out to prove that small nations like Cyprus can succeed against the athletes from bigger sailing powers like Elliot Hanson (GBR), Jean-Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) and Philipp Buhl (GER).
Five-time Olympic medallist and all-time greatest Laser sailor Robert Scheidt (BRA) might yet win a sixth medal for Brazil, even at the age of 48.
Laser Radial (ILCA 6) Women
With silver and gold from the past two Games, Marit Bouwmeester (NED) looks well placed to score a hat trick of medals in the ILCA 6 singlehander, aka the Laser Radial.
The Dutch sailor will be hard pushed to match gold from Rio 2016, however, with the Rio bronze medallist Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) looking powerful throughout the Tokyo cycle, winning the 2019 world title.
2018 World Champion Emma Plasschaert (BEL) is another serious medal contender. Poland, Greece and Japan are also pinning high hopes on their athletes reaching the ILCA 6 podium in Enoshima.
Windsurfing RS:X Men and Women
In the windsurfing fleets, the Netherlands is favourite to take gold in both the men’s and women’s divisions. Strong contenders in the men will come from France, Italy, Poland and China. All of those countries will be competitive in the women’s division, with Israel and Great Britain also looking strong.
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Source: Yachting World