ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship preview

20 teams set sail next week in Newport, RI

Wednesday September 15th 2010, Author: Michael Leviitt, Location: United States

In one week, the world's most talented women match racers will descend upon Newport, Rhode Island and the New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court Clubhouse for their world championship. And though the discipline of match racing is relatively new in women’s sailing, only selected as an Olympic sport in late 2008, this group that is loaded with Olympic medalists and world champions is already bringing action-packed, top level racing to each event.

With different winners in each of this year’s ISAF World Cup events, and all those champions competing at next week’s ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship, the sailors and coaches agree, it will be the most competitive women’s match racing event in memory, and first place is up for grabs.

“The level in women’s match racing has dramatically improved,” says Dave Perry, the US Sailing Team’s match racing coach. “There’s no real frontrunner.” Perry adds that though the championship is not a scoring event for the World Cup, there will be no better chance to compete against the best sailors.

Run annually since 1999, this year’s championship has attracted 20 teams from 14 nations. Powerhouse nations include France, United States and Denmark, but if a favorite had to be chosen, it would be Australia’s Nicky Souter, sailing with Nina Curtis, Olivia Price and Laura Baldwin. Souter is the reigning world champion and also won back-to-back events recently including last month’s Skandia Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth, Great Britain and last week’s Buddy Melges Challenge at the US Sailing Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Regardless of Souter’s recent streak, more than a dozen of the teams competing in the championship have won major events. Claire Leroy won back-to-back ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championships in 2007 and 2008, as did American Sally Barkow before her in 2004 and 2005. Australian Katie Spithill has been top five in the championship the last three times and is poised to win her first world championship with top results this year.

Leroy’s tuning partner, French sailor Anne-Claire Le Berre, says her team has been training with the expectation that this world championship will be the toughest yet. “Since the Olympic designation, the teams are more professional,” says Le Berre who started match racing in 2004. “This championship is very important to us because it is a world title. We hope to be the best, but there are so many good teams it is difficult to know who will win.”

Not to be discounted is British star Lucy Macgregor, the current ISAF number one ranked women’s match racer. She is third in the ISAF World Cup standings and is sailing with who many consider the top female match racing mind, Annie Lush.

Certainly the most decorated sailors at the event will be Olympic gold medalists Anna Tunnicliffe of the U.S. and Sofia Bekatorou of Greece. Tunnicliffe, who is second in the ISAF World Cup rankings, dove head first into match racing shortly after her Olympic victory in 2008. Bekatorou was a 470 gold medalist in her native Greece in 2004 and has also been slowly climbing the rankings.

With support from their nation’s men’s match racing teams, Portugal, Russia, Denmark, New Zealand and Spain, are all beginning to play the game well and are expected to upset even the top ranked teams.

Though the Olympic class is the Elliot 6 Meter, this year’s championship will be in New York Yacht Club’s fleet of four-person Sonar keelboats. “The Sonars change the playing field a little bit,” says Sally Barkow who has been competing in open match race events over the past several years to gain experience. “Four people change the communication, and it should even things out.”

Le Berre and the other French teams have also been training in Sonars used for Paralympic sailing in France, hoping to gain an advantage in the championship.

As the sailors continue to improve their match racing skills leading up to the 2012 Olympic debut of the discipline, it is early enough for them to take some big risks in order to learn and win. “No team has won consecutive events this year,” says Barkow. “Teams that have won events have missed qualifying for the quarter finals in the next event. It’s anybody’s game.”

Competitors List (with current ISAF ranking):
USA Sally Barkow (12)
Greece Sofia Bekatorou (34)
France Julie Bossard (9)
Portugal Rita Goncalves (25)
France Anne-Claire Le Berre (5)
France Claire Leroy (2)
Great Britain Lucy Macgregor (1)
Denmark Lotte Meldgaard Pedersen (13)
New Zealand Samantha Osborne (18)
Spain Silvia Roca Mata (19)
USA Anna Tunnicliffe (3)
Brazil Juliana Senfft (17)
Russia Ekaterina Skudina (11)
Australia Nicky Souter (8)
Australia Katie Spithill (6)
USA Genny Tulloch (10)
Denmark Camilla Ulrikkeholm (15)
Croatia Petra Kliba (22)
Finland Silja Lehtinen (14)
Netherlands Renee Groeneveld (7)

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