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London 2012 form guide: Women's Match Racing

Anna Tunnicliffe's team stand out but there are six principle contenders

Wednesday July 25th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Download our form guide for the Women's Match Racing (see all our Olympic coverage here)

A discipline making its first and last appearance at the Olympic Games at London 2012 is Women’s Match Racing. While an entirely unrelated discipline, this has effectively filled the slot left by the widely unpopular Yngling women’s keelboat that featured in the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games. For ticketed spectators watching the sailing in Weymouth, the Women’s Match Racing will be significant as, with the exception of medal race days, it will feature almost every day on the Nothe course.

When Women’s Match Racing was ushered into the Olympic Games it was deemed essential that it be in ‘supplied equipment’. This represents a significant departure from most circuit match racing events where part of the skill is in being able to adapt to whatever boat the local organiser supplies - from modern purpose-built kit to the ancient IODs in Bermuda, the Bavarias at Match Race Germany to the DS37s in Scandinavia, etc. At an Olympic level this was rightly thought unlikely to work, so while the boats for the Olympics are ‘supplied equipment’, the type of boat was revealed early on as the Elliott 6, designed by Kiwi Greg Elliott (who also penned the supermaxi Maximus, was involved with the design of Mari Cha IV, etc).

This allowed all the larger MNAs to buy their own boats to enable their crews to get up to speed for the Games. So for the teams, the scenario with the Elliott 6s at the Games is halfway between that of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, where competitors pitch up to sail different boats at each regatta and that of the America’s Cup where teams race their own highly tuned and refined boats. As a result, teams have been able to train in their own Elliott 6s and their techniques sailing them have become well refined and this has heightened the level of competition.

GAC Pindar skipper and reigning Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams, who has been occasionally coaching the British team of the Macgregor sisters Lucy and Kate and Annie Lush, tells us what this means: “Any class where it is supplied equipment - you don’t get that ingrained advantage that you perhaps do in other classes where you can get a speed advantage generated through technique or set-up. For sure there is technique with kinetics, especially downwind and catching the waves - you might have a better technique in certain conditions that will create a bit of a speed difference, but it doesn’t have the same amount of difference as it would have in a dinghy.”

A new Olympic boat

At 6m, the Elliott 6 is a little shorter than the Star (at 6.9m) but is the newest boat in the Olympic roster while the Star is decidedly the oldest, now being 102 years old...

To give some indication of how yacht design has progressed over the last century, both the Elliott 6 and the Star have a similar displacement of around 700kg, but while the Star has a beam of 1.73m and draws just 1m, the Elliott is 2.35m wide and draws 1.66m. While the Elliott is shorter overall, it feels like a bigger boat not just because of its larger beam, but because, with its plumb bow and stern, its waterline length is also around the 6m mark, whereas the Star, with its long overhangs, is just 4.7m on the water. On the Star the combined main and jib area is 26.5sqm upwind and down, while on the Elliot it is 23.6sqm for main and jib with an additional 28sqm downwind for the spinnaker the Star lacks.

Aside from being a boat of this century, the Elliott 6 is, in general terms, a relatively high performance average white boat. The similarly-sized and more state-of-the-art Melges 20 sportsboat for example, displaces almost 200kg less and has a larger area of white sails and a 40sqm kite.

“I think it is a really good boat,” says Liz Baylis, Executive Director of the Women’s International Match Racing Association (WIMRA). “It highlights the athleticism of the sailors and they wanted an athletic boat that sailed well. It is quick and when the breeze comes up it doesn’t take much to make it pretty exciting. And it also sails well in light air, so that makes this a piece of equipment that makes match racing possible in 4 to 30 knots.”

Ian Williams points out that as the boat is faster, it also creates more passing lanes downwind. “What you find in the bigger boats is that in the very light there is quite a chance to blanket the other boat and make a passing lane, but when the breeze gets up and the boats starts digging holes in the water, it starts to get hard to get all the way past without getting pinned out to one side. Whereas in a boat that doesn’t dig a hole in the water [like the Elliott 6, particularly in waves] at that point it starts to pop up and plane and when you blanket somebody on the plane, you’ll go clean past.”

The Elliott 6s to be used at London 2012 belong to Wisconsin-based charity Sail Sheboygan, which has brought 12 boats to Weymouth, although only six will be racing at any one time. These boats have only been used previously at Perth 2011 and the Test Event last year in Weymouth. They are being set up, maintained and kept equal by Sail Sheboygan’s Executive Director, Rich Reichelsdorfer. For the Olympic Games, the girls will get to sail these boats for the first time tomorrow (Thursday).

Sailing it

The Elliott 6, like the Yngling, has a crew of three. In addition to steering, typically the helm hoists the kite, 470-style with the tiller between their knees (the spinnaker halyard comes out just behind the main sheet).

The middle person trims the mainsail during the pre-start, but after that Liz Bayliss says that whether it is the helm or the middle crew who handles the main sheet often depends on the background of the helm. “If they were a Laser sailor they may trim the main more upwind, but if they were a keelboat match racer before they probably have the middle person trim the main. You either trim the main or do the traveller upwind and in tacks.”

The forward hand trims the jib and usually operates the pole, but on some teams it is the mid-crew who deploys and gybes the pole, leaving the forward crew to trim the kite.

Race format

While the fleet racing classes at London 2012 just have a number of races culminating in the double points scoring medal race for the top 10 on the final day, the format for the Women’s Match Racing is more complicated.

12 teams get to compete in the Women’s Match Racing event. First up is a round robin where all of the teams get to race their 11 opponents. These are vital as it determines the top eight going through to the quarterfinals, the quarterfinals seeding, while the bottom four teams are out of the competition.

Once into the quarter finals, the 8th placed boat from the round robin (RR8) sails the 1st placed boat (RR1), the seventh placed (RR7) races the 2nd (RR2) etc in a first to three points bout. While the quarterfinal winners go through to the semi finals, the losers of these matches go into a ‘sail-off’ round to determine places five to eight.

In the semis, the winner of the RR8 v RR1 quarterfinal match races the winner of the RR5 v RR4 match, while quarterfinal winner of RR7 v RR2 and RR6 v RR3 race each other again in a first to three points contest. The winners of these two series quality for the ‘gold medal match’, the losers for the ‘bronze medal match’, both of which are again first to three series.

The complicated nature of this format is designed so that favours teams that perform well from the outset, but also requires that they sail consistently, as it is easy for upsets to occur – for example it is possible during the quarterfinals for example for the first placed boat from the round robin being knocked out by the eighth placed boat.

However the Olympic competition also makes a change from traditional match racing where “there is only one winner” to quote the explanation of the America’s Cup once made to Queen Victoria. Thus both the gold medal and bronze medal matches, or the final and petite final in match racing parlance, are both of significance.

Longer duration

While the Women’s Match Racing at the Sailing World Cup events has at times been painful to complete with occasionally as many as 16 teams and a limited number of boats trying to speed through the competition in less than a week (if there are any days lost it inevitably means early starts and late finishes), the racing at the Olympic Games will be much more sedate with the racing spread out over the entire two week duration of the competition.

Ian Williams says that at Alpari World Match Racing Tour events they have to get through this same format in just five days. “It’s going to be about getting into your stride quickly on any given day.”

The British team’s Annie Lush agrees this could prove very significant: “The tough thing is that you only go out on the water for two or three races at a time so it is quite hard to get into the flow. Quite often with match racing if you get into a good day and you start winning you can use that momentum to keep going and there is going to be none of that. You will go out and maybe do one or two races and then you are off again. And if you lose, you have 1-2-3 days to gloat on that before you can go out there and change it. So how you approach that mentally is going to be really big and it will be new to everyone.”

To prepare them for this, Lush says they have been trying to replicate this in their training: “Going out for really short bursts of training and trying to be absolutely 100%, only going out for 45 minutes and nailing it in that 45 minutes. So hopefully that will stand us in good stead. It is going to be whichever team manages to switch on and off well for two weeks because you can’t stay on for two weeks.”


So who’s going to win? As with most of the sailing classes at the Olympic Games, the Women’s Match Racing comprises a mix of Olympic veterans and fresh faced first timers. At London 2012 this will be a roughly 50:50 mix. Two of the 12 helms – Silja Lehtinen (FIN) and Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) – are ex-Ynglings Olympic helms, with Lehtinen coming home 11th in Beijing while the Russian was sixth in Beijing and 8th in Athens. But both have new crews.

However there were several others involved with Ynglings – Lucy Macgregor and Annie Lush were part of Shirley Robertson’s brief campaign for Beijing, while Annemieke Bes, one of the most accomplished women in the competition, who does the middle for the Dutch team, has been part of her countries last two Yngling campaigns claiming silver in 2008 and 4th in 2004.

Half of the helms have a background purely in match racing – Lotte Meldegard Pedersen (DEN), Olivia Price (AUS), Claire LeRoy (FRA), Stephanie Hazard (NZL), Rita Goncalves (POR) and Anna Kjellberg (SWE).

Two are more complex with Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen being a former Laser Radial and 470 crew before moving into match racing, while the USA’s Anna Tunnicliffe was famously the Laser Radial gold medallist in Beijing, while in the middle of her boat, Debbie Capozzi, was on the bow of Sally Barkow’s Yngling in Beijing.

Internal trials

In addition to country qualifying, two teams ran their own internal trials. Particularly potent was the heavyweight US trials between four teams, held in Weymouth. With the teams of Stephanie Roble and Genny Tulloch dispatched, this left Anna Tunnicliffe and her Team Maclaren crew of Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi, to line up again Sally Barkow and her Team 7 Match Race crew of Elizabeth Kratzig Burnham and Alana O’Reilly. Ultimately this bout ended 4-2 in favour of Tunnicliffe.

For the Dutch there was a show down back in June between two powerful teams. From the Delta Lloyd Dutch squad team were Mandy Mulder, Merel Witteveen and Annemiek Bekkering, Mulder and Witteveen having won Yngling silver in Beijing. Their independent adversary was the ‘Mach 3’ team of former Dutch Yngling squad sailor Renée Groeneveld, and her crew of accomplished Olympians - Annemieke Bes and Marcelien Bos-de Koning. Bes, we've mentioned, while Bos-de Koning (as Marcelien de Koning) was the awesome silver medal winning the Dutch 470 helm in Beijing and three time 470 World Champion, who briefly tried her hand at the RS:X for this Games (read about this here).

The first to nine series was won by Groeneveld’s team 9-3.


While Women’s Match Racing may be in and out of the Olympic Games in just one cycle it has massively raised the benchmark in the sport as witnessed at the Alpari World Match Racing Tour event in Chicago recently when Sally Barkow’s team finished eighth. And she didn’t make the cut for the Games.

“The women’s match racing has got more aggressive and assertive, which is getting it closer to what the men are doing,” maintains Liz Baylis. “It will take a little while for the women to get back into sailing the bigger boats again, but I think we have potential to see more women on the open circuit, which would be nice.”

Baylis says she has been getting feedback to this effect from umpires too. “They all think that at this last Sail for Gold and the American and Dutch trials, they have been seeing some of the best match racing they have seen anywhere, including at the Open level. They have been impressed with how match racing has improved.”

Annie Lush, who does the middle position in the British team, says it is crazy how close the racing is getting: “At the World Championship a few weeks ago it was 25-30 knots. I can remember a couple of years ago when we could barely keep the boats upright in that. Yet we were racing in Sweden inshore with crazy 20-30° wind shifts and the boats were trading places every lap and we were never more than half a boat length apart with match racing manoeuvres being pulled off at the same time. It was pretty impressive, the fleet as a whole. That is the most exciting racing – right now you cannot afford to make one mistake, because the other team will pounce on it and it was only a year ago when if you were better at handling the boat and speed-wise you could sail around people. That time has definitely gone.”

Part of the reason for this raising of the bar is down to the resource being poured into getting the teams to sail their boats better and develop their match racing skills to the highest possible degree. It is quite entertaining that many of the male skippers on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour have part time jobs coaching the women’s team – while Williams and Simon Shaw have been involved with the Brits, Laurie Jury has been coaching the Kiwis, Damien Iehl the French, Tuder Owen the Russians, Torvar Mirsky the Finns, etc.

Of the top teams, there are six that stand out, four of whom have been there from the outset. 

As to the British team’s prospects, Annie Lush says: “Nervous and excited, but I think it is going to be really close. I would like to say we are going into this with a big lead or that there are two or three boats that are far ahead, but there aren’t right now, a different team has won nearly every event. The top six are really really tight: The Finnish won the Worlds a couple of weeks ago and they nearly didn’t qualify for the Olympics six months ago. The Aussies won Sail for Gold, Anna [Tunnicliffe] has had quite a good season. We won at the beginning of the year – I really couldn’t pick between the top six.”

Saying this our league table looking at the form going into the Games has Tunnicliffe USA team well in front. Tunnicliffe (who was born in Doncaster) is lining up to be one of the most consummate of female Olympic sailors following her Laser Radial Gold from Beijing.

Tunnicliffe and her crew have put in the most consistently high performance over this Olympic cycle with the help of their coach, former America3 tactician and starting helm Dave Dellenbaugh. And Tunnicliffe and Capozzi have the all-important previous in the Games.

Annie Lush gives her take on Tunnicliffe and her team: “She is a previous Olympian and Olympian champion, so that definitely helps her and you see that in the way that she races: She is a confident racer and that helps her to be one of the most consistent. It is hard to read her and it is hard to see when she is having a low and even when she is down, she seems to pull a result out. She is a tough competitor like that.

“Having said that match racing is race by race and it is a knock-out. We knocked her out on her home waters [Miami] at the beginning of this year. She beat us a month before at the World Championship, so I know we can beat her on the water – we have done it many times.

“It is hard to look at overall form, it is every single race. I know that we can beat every single person out there – we have done so in many races, but it is about putting the whole regatta together, because it is a very long regatta, it is completely different to what we have ever done before and it is going to be whoever manages to hold together for that.”

If Tunnicliffe’s team is the one to beat, there are plenty capable of toppling them. Back for her third Olympic Games is Russian Ekaterina Skudina, known to be one of the most vocal on the race course. She holds second position in our ranking by virtue of her previous Olympic experience – without this she would be level pegging with the French team, Clare Leroy being one of the longest standing match racers on the women’s circuit, who’s first match racing event was back in 1999...) and the British hopes of Macgregor sisters, Lucy and Kate, and Annie Lush. The Brits won the World Championship in 2010 and have since been there or thereabouts, but one wonders if over the last year they have managed to improve at the speedy pace of their peers.

For over the last few months two teams have come to the fore and could be lining for a steeper peak into the Games. Of note is the Australian crew led by Olivia Price, who, turning 20 during the Games, is the youngest helm and most recently won on Olympic waters during Skandia Sail for Gold.

Silja Lehtinen (FIN) scraped through on country qualification at the last available opportunity in Miami in February and despite average results through this season has just won the final event going into the Games, the World Championship in Gothenberg, Sweden. There she beat Anna Tunnicliffe 3-0. In our ranking Lehtinen beats the Australian team thanks to her past Olympic experience, despite generally having had worse results recently.

Annie Lush shares her take on these two teams: “The Australian team is a fairly new team so they have definitely been improving since Perth. You can see that - they are not new to match racing but that particular team was put together last year. They have been making a steady improvement. The Finns won the Test Event, so they haven’t really been peaking late, they have been peaking throughout their career and Silja also went to the last Games, so they are not new to it by any stretch. It is not uncommon for her to have moments peaking and moments of disaster. And without wishing to be mean to her, we hope the Worlds were her peak and the Olympics will be ours!”

Women’s Match Racing commences on 29 July and rounds off the Olympic Sailing Competition on 11 August with the Petit Final and Final in front of the Nothe spectator area.

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Women's Match Racing ranking:=

Pos Nat Helm Age Crew Age Crew3 Age  WC SFG  Hyeres Palma Miami Perth WC Test SFG Olympic Rating
                2012 2012 2012 2012 2012 2011 2011 2011 exp  factor
                x8 x8 x4 x4 x4 x4 x2 x1 x5  
1 USA Anna Tunnicliffe 29 Debbie Capozzi 30 Molly Vandemoer 33 2 3 1 1 5 1   1 1 9.75
2 RUS Ekaterina Skudina 31 Elena Syuzeva 25 Elena Oblova 33 7 4 3 5 7 4 2 13 5 22.89
3 FRA Claire Leroy 32 Marie Riou 30 Elodie Bertrand 31 4 2 6 2 11 3 4 4 15 24.78
4 GBR Lucy MacGregor 25 Annie Lush 32 Kate MacGregor 21 6 5 4 6 1 2 7 2 15 25.67
5 FIN Silja Lehtinen 26 Silja Kanerva 27 Mikaela Wulff 22 1 6 11 10 4 14 1 5 5 27.11
6 AUS Olivia Price 19 Nina Curtis 24 Lucinda Whitty 22 5 1 9 3 5 8 5 15 15 27.56
7 NED Renee Groeneveld 25 Annemieke Bes 34 Marcelien Bos-De Koning 34 8 9   9 9 10   12 1 37.86
8 ESP Tamara Echegoyen 28 Sofia Toro 21 Angela Pumariega 27 12 8 7   6 12 11 10 15 40.78
9 NZL Stephanie Hazard 22 Jennna Hansen 25 Susannah Pyatt 22   7 14 11   9   19 15 47.67
10 DEN Lotte Meldegard Pedersen 39 Susanne Boidin 24 Tina Gramkov 41   13 10 15   16 10 11 15 53.43
11 SWE Anna Kjellberg 28 Malin Kallstrom 43 Lotte Harrysson 45 14 11 13 13 19 6 8 16 15 56.78
12 POR Rita Goncalves 31 Mariana Lobato 24 Diana Neves 26 13 10 16 18 18 11 9 14 15 60.33
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