Aarhus World Championships
The Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018 drew to a close on Sunday with the Netherlands on top, France on the rise and Denmark basking in accolades from around the world for setting new standards for hosting the biggest sailing event in the world.
“The city of Aarhus has really come alive over the last 11 days,” Kim Andersen, the president of World Sailing said. “Thousands of people have shown their support, enjoyed the sailing spectacle and the onshore activities.
“It’s been a truly fabulous event and as World Sailing President and a proud Dane, I could not be any happier.”
The greatest gift from the Danes and their 1,100 amazing volunteers was that they provided the perfect stage for the sailors to showcase their talents. New stars have emerged and old ones returned. The week has been graced by many great performances, from dramatic capsizes in the 49erFX and the rise of the Fantela brothers in the 49er, Zsombor Berecz’s tears as he crossed the line to win the Finn and Hungary’s first gold at a quadrennial World Championships and Emma Plasschaert winning Belgium’s first world championship gold in the Laser Radial and proving that Marit Bouwmeester is human.
The Netherlands topped the final medal table with three golds, two silvers and one bronze from the ten Olympic classes. On Sunday, they added a silver lining to their double victory lap in the windsurfing. Dorian Van Rijsselberghe, the double Olympic champion, and Lilian de Geus had made themselves mathematically uncatchable on Friday. Kiran Badloe, lying in second, kept his rivals behind him in the medal race to take another silver for the Dutch.
No one across any of the fleets has been more dominant than De Geus. She did not finish lower than ninth in their 12 races over the last two weeks. After dominating Friday, the 26-year-old De Geus, was 30 points clear of China’s Yunxiu Lu in second. This World Championships gold and the challenge it lays down to the rest of the fleet for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (Enoshima), will have gone long way to making up for the dreaded fourth place in the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“I can party officially now,” De Geus said. “It’s a strange feeling because I was already world champion on Friday, so we partied on Friday.”
“I was so disappointed after Rio, so it’s an amazing feeling to be world champion. We trained a lot in these conditions and you could see the results on Friday – with two bullets. I could see every shift and every gust.”
Behind her, France’s 2016 Rio Olympic champion, Charline Picon, laid down her own marker with a magnificent medal race which seized the silver from Lu, who had started the medal race 10 points ahead. The 33-year-old is just making her comeback a year after having a baby – one of at least eight women in the women’s RS:X fleet who are mothers.
“I’m very happy with my performance, especially because I’ve just had a baby one year ago, and I’ve only been training for four months,” Picon said. “I’ve proved that you can still trust in me and my performance in big competitions. I hope to improve a lot more over the next few months.
“I think Lilian did great and I will be using her great performance to compare myself. This week has been hard. I’ve been racing then going back to the apartment to look after my baby. It’s not easy after a day of racing.”
It was another result that suggested that France will be a formidable host of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Likewise, Louis Giard holding onto bronze in the men’s RS:X just before. Add in France’s three medals from the kiteboarding classes, which have been included in Paris 2024 (the sailing will be in Marseille) and France ran the Netherlands close.
Lu just needed to finish fifth or better to be guaranteed silver. The wind softened to five-knot offshore westerlies for the women’s race, down from ten for the men, 40 minutes before. Picon was third to the top mark behind the leader Britain’s Emma Wilson, just 19 and only three points behind at the start of the race.
But Picon flew into the lead on the first downwind and never gave it up. Lu was seventh and stayed there for the whole race. But with the field so tightly bunched – with less than 100m between the ten boards – fluctuations were always possible and nothing was settled until the line. After dominating the class world championships, China’s men and women have found it tougher going here.
The men’s RS:X was more settled. Van Rijsselberghe has been a class apart among the windsurfers over the last two weeks. This is the third time he has won gold before the start of the medal race. The other two times were the London 2012 Olympics and the Rio 2016 Olympics. He does things his own way and he does not leave things to chance.
Like many of his would-be rivals, the 29-year-old double Olympic champion has only won two races, but his consistency was unmatched. Only once in the 12 races leading to this medal race did he finish out of the top 10.
Even his highly-rated fellow countryman, Badloe, 23, had not been able to keep close and lay 23 points behind.
“I’m super proud for my nation and myself, and also Kiran who secured silver,” Van Rijsselberghe said. “We train everywhere and anywhere. I spend more time with Kiran than my wife.”
France’s Giard, in third, was five points further behind. He had Poland’s Pawel Tarnowski just two points back in fourth and Greece’s Byron Kokkalanis is fifth, six points further back.
Badloe slipped to seventh at the bottom of the first downwind, but made up the ten-second gap on Giard on the second upwind, rounded in fifth and held. He could afford to look back to check on Giard’s position on the second and last downwind. And Giard could relax with pursuers safely behind him.
Sadly the wind had softened to 2-3 knots by the completion of the women’s RS:X and there was no possibility of running what had promised to the medal race of the day in the Nacra.
The top four boats in this mixed crew foiling cat class were separated by just six points. The pre-race favourites, Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Marianna Banti were just one point clear of the exciting newcomers, Australia’s brother and sister Team Outteridge, Nathan and Haylee. Argentina’s Rio 2016 Olympic champions, Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli, were two points further back. And that’s they finished.
Spare a thought for Denmark’s Lin Ea Cenholt and Christian Peter Lübeck in fourth - three points off the bronze.
What is the secret of the Dutch domination? For De Gues it is simple. “We medalled in almost the classes we went for,” she said. “We push each other to high standards. The secret? Hard work.”
Van Rijsselberghe, who is making a comeback to the sport this year after deciding to have a tilt at a third Olympic gold, the recipe is equally simple.
“The most important thing is to have more fun than anybody else, so we have that very high in our notes,” he said. “You just do the simple stuff really well as my coach (New Zealander, Aaron McIntosh) says and we end up there.
“We know that we need to beat each other and at the moment we’re pretty good, so you’ve got to try really hard to beat the other guy and it’s a supercool thing. We just wanted to end up first and second at the Worlds.
“How did I come back? First I needed a good ass-whipping. In Hyères this year I got beaten pretty badly, so that triggered me to step it up and make sure I was going to comeback strong.”
Badloe concurred. “Well, like Dorian said, I think we’re having more fun than anybody else,” he said. “We’re putting in the hard work but most of all keeping the fun in it, and that’s what has eventually got us up there.”
The men’s RS:X is one of those fleets that reinforces the fact that a world title is often harder to win than an Olympic one, with so many more talented sailors fighting for every point.
The medal races have riveting, played in front of packed stadium crowds.
“Having racing just off the front with a packed grandstand, coupled with big screens and digital applications such as the SAP Sailing Analytics has helped the audience to really understand what’s going on and dive deep into the action,” Andersen said.
“The City of Aarhus has really put on a world class show, which we always knew they would do.
“Worldwide, the media footprint of this event has been quite significant. We’ve broken previous broadcasting records and we’re on track to achieve more viewers of the sport at a World Championships than we’ve ever had before.”
Denmark’s ability to stage events of this scale has not gone unnoticed and Thomas Bach, the IOC president, noted it on his visit last Sunday.
“Denmark has really established it as one of the hubs for world-class sports organisation,” Bach said. “It’s something I’ve noticed. Just this year, Denmark is hosting three world championships. Aside from sailing, there’s been ice hockey and triathlon in Denmark and there’s more on the way.
“Denmark has proven to be a world-class organiser. No-one in the sporting world could have any doubts that Denmark could organise a fantastic Olympic Games, organisationally and logistically.”
Sustainability has also been at the core of these Championships and Bach said: “I think it’s remarkable that World Sailing, Aarhus and Denmark have built programmes with regard to sustainability. This is a benchmark project for these kind of World Championships.”
From small acorns these World Championships have grown strong through the kind of partnerships that bind sailors together across the clubs of Denmark. People and institutions have come to together for a greater purpose.
“These World Championships have been even better than we had hoped and prepared for,” Lars Lundov, CEO of Sport Event Denmark, said. “From the racing, to our incredible 1,100 volunteers, to the spectators lining the harbour wall, to the benchmark-setting sustainability programme, we are very proud that Denmark has delivered. The IOC president’s praise of Denmark’s organisational skills was very welcome. Great sporting events are all about partnerships. Sport Event Denmark, the City of Aarhus and the Danish Sailing Federation had a vision and made it a reality.”
Denmark and Aarhus 2018 hands on the flame to the Netherlands and The Hague 2022 in the strongest of health.
Lilian de Geus – Netherlands – women’s RS:X (gold)
“It’s a strange feeling because I was already world champion on Friday, so we partied on Friday, but I had the medal race to do so I couldn’t party too hard. It was a fun medal race, for second and third place was exciting.
“A few years ago, I found that my weakness was having a consistent form in competitions and I’ve been improving on that by mastering my tactics and strategy early in the competition. Since then I’ve noticed huge differences in my results and as you’ve seen this week, it has helped me win the Worlds.
“The Netherlands is a small country and there are not a lot of windsurfers, compared to China and Israel, but with the few in the Netherlands we just help each other get to the top.”
Yunxiu Lu – China – women’s RS:X (bronze)
“Winning a medal here proves that our tough training, over the recent months, is paying off. My teammates made a few mistakes early in the regatta and I was the most consistent from them.
“All the top ten sailors here are the best in the world and it’s challenging trying to keep up but I managed bronze here, so I am very happy.”
Emma Wilson – Great Britain – Women’s RS:X (fourth)
“I had a pretty good race. I was first at the top beat, I just missed out, now it hurts but I’ll go away pretty happy with fourth. I’m pretty proud of how I approached it.”
Van Rijsselberghe – Netherlands – men’s RS:X (gold)
“Competing with Kieran is great because he keeps pushing me and together we get to a certain level that we would never exceed ourselves. We usually train in the Friesland canal, in the Netherlands. We thought it would be super fun and great experience to train there.
“Winning the Worlds is just the first step on the road to Tokyo and I’m happy with how it turned out.
“I wanted to perform at this competition and if you set your mind to certain things you can achieve it and that’s what I’ve done.”
Kiran Badloe – France – Men’s RS:X (silver)
“I’m relieved that I managed to do what I intended to do. I’m so happy that I’ll be sharing the podium with Dorian.
“It’s been a long week and I’m so happy I come away with a medal. Me and Dorian are one and two in the world so it’s an amazing feeling.
“We are good friends who constantly train and have fun. The more you add fun to it, the more you enjoy it and everything else just flows. We’re making the hard hours funs and that’s what’s paying off in the end.
“It’s pretty obvious that we both want to go to the Olympics and we’re in a unique situation where two really good windsurfers who are both capable of doing well at the Olympics, and only one of us can go. It’ll be a tough battle but, in the end, the best one will go.”
Louis Giard – France – Men’s RS:X (bronze)
“It was really close one, maybe my eyes were a bit too much on the Polish guy, last year maybe I lost the chance to be world champion, I started really well. I said to myself last night that I can’t lose the chance for a medal twice in a row.
“It feels great and I’m emotional. It’s my first world championship medal win so I’m so happy. Finally, after 11 podium places since January 2017, I’ve got a medal at the World Championships.
“It was a difficult race, as I expected. The offshore wind was really tricky, but I’ve achieved bronze, so I’m satisfied.
“We have a strong French team. They were not in medal race this time, but I know their potential and I know that they will comeback stronger. It was my goal to finally check this off my list. This is going to give me more confidence but now I can focus on my next goals.”
Ruggero Tita and Caterina Marianna Banti –Italy – Nacra 17 (gold)
Tita: “We’re so happy! It’s been an incredible season. We’ve won so many events. I personally really like the new foiling Nacra and I think Banti can say the same. The speed and new discoveries of sailing is really interesting and the more interest I have in the boat, the better I can sail it.
“It’s about training hard but most importantly, good communication between the team. You must be able to read each other.
Banti: “It was a long championship. We started really well but then we dropped out a couple of spots, but during the final series, we managed to come back on top. It’s a honour to the World Championship and it feels so good because of the hard work we have put in over the year.
“We have been sailing together for one and a half years now. Ruggero was sailing the 49er and I was sailing the old Nacra 17, and he wanted to try the new Nacra 17 foiling, and that’s when we decided to compete in it and now we have won the Worlds. We don’t regret it.”
Nathan and Haylee Outteridge – Australia – Nacra 17 (silver)
Nathan: “It’s a strange feeling not to do a medal race when you spend two days preparing for it. I think we can be really proud of what we’ve achieved in the last six months. It’s our third event, we were ninth at Kiel and ninth at the Europeans. It’s been a big jump up.”
Haylee: “I think we were a little bit disappointed. We didn’t have a whole lot to lose because we didn’t expect to be on the podium, so we were ready to go for it. But silver is still beyond our expectations.”
Santiago Lange – Argentina – Nacra 17 (bronze)
“It’s not so easy to be able to finish a world championship without the ability to fight for gold. Congratulations to the Italians, they’ve worked hard for this and they did an awesome job.
“We sail all week to win it and when I look back at my races, it was so close on points. We were a little behind at the start of the competition and we knew that today was our chance to get win it back. We’re fighters and we wanted to fight for gold, but we didn’t get the chance, it’s mother nature and it’s the beauty of our sport, we have to accept that.
“Next season is also a big season for us, so we hope to get better and just continue to improve.”