With Tokyo 2020 less than a year away, we catch up on the happenings within the British Sailing Team’s windsurfing squad.
Words RYA // Photos Jesus Renedo/Sailing Energy/Cna.
As 2019 began for the Olympic sailing classes, so did a key process for the British Sailing Team in their preparations for Tokyo 2020: the selection trials. Such are the quirks of Olympic sailing that only one representative from each nation can compete in each of the ten classes, including the men’s and women’s RS:X windsurfer. The intentions of this are well-meaning – to prevent a nation (or nations) from becoming totally dominant, to allow smaller countries to compete, to keep fleet sizes manageable and racing fair. The limitations mean that you could have for example three athletes from a country in the top ten in the world and only one would get to go to the Olympics. And so, for a short period of time in each Olympic cycle, the closest of teammates become the fiercest of rivals as they battle for their nation’s one spot at the Games. So it has been in the case for the British Sailing Team windsurfers in early 2019. The British Sailing Team selection policy remains confidential to protect athletes from outside interference, however the first goal in the multi-stage process was to win a spot at the Tokyo 2020 test event, a dress rehearsal for the Games proper held at the Olympic venue.
AN OPEN DOOR
With three-time medallist Nick Dempsey calling time on his illustrious Olympic career following his silver at Rio 2016, the door was left open for a new male representative to step forward. Thankfully a young squad of rising talent including former youth world champion Kieran Holmes-Martin, world top 20 windsurfer Tom Squires and under 21 European bronze medallist Andy Brown were waiting in the wings, each itching for their moment to shine. In 2018 the momentum had been with Holmes-Martin, who scored a personal best fourth overall at the world championships in Aarhus, Denmark, but a wrist injury late in the season hampered preparations for 2019. Squires meanwhile opted to break from his training partners and spend time in Hong Kong and New Zealand with athletes from other nations including two-time Olympic champion Dorian van Rijsselberghe. It was a move that appeared to have paid off as the season got underway in Palma in May with the European Championships as Squires came home 12th, with Brown in 21st taking the under 21 bronze and Holmes-Martin in 24th. Top ten finishes for Squires and Holmes-Martin at Hyeres Olympic Week later that month – and five British athletes in the top 14 – confirmed the race for the one GB bib at the test event was well and truly on.
YOUTH VS. EXPERIENCE
In the women’s squad, a battle of youth against experience was playing out. In one corner was windsurfing powerhouse Bryony Shaw, a veteran of three Olympics and winner of a bronze medal at Beijing 2008, and in the other corner two young talents busting for a shot at representing Team GB: Emma Wilson and Saskia Sills. After taking 2017 off to become a mum, in 2018 Shaw had proven she still had what it took to be a world-beater. Wilson, meanwhile, had shown her potential coming home fourth at the 2018 world championships, an event Sills had led after the opening day. The advantage went to Wilson early on, claiming a silver at the European championships and the top under 21 spot, while Shaw finished 16th and Sills 23rd. Just like in the men’s fleet, both Wilson and Shaw came home in the top ten at Hyeres Olympic Week. Sills then proved just what she was capable of, scooping silver at the World Cup Series final in Marseille.
THE FIRST DECISIONS
Late in May the news came that a special RYA selection panel had chosen its representatives for the test event, now known as Ready Steady Tokyo. Among the 17 sailors named on the team list were Wilson and Squires, their performances over the previous few months proving enough to earn them the nod.
With the breath-taking Mount Fuji in the background, Wilson and Squires hit the waters of Enoshima, all too aware of the challenges it poses as a venue. Notorious for its changeable weather, typhoon swells, blistering heat and stifling humidity, it didn’t disappoint. But neither did Squires or Wilson, both narrowly missing out on medals as they each came home in a very respectable fourth place after a gruelling week-long regatta. Perhaps even more impressively, Squires and Wilson then rolled straight into the World Cup Series Enoshima, both finishing in fifth overall, while Squires’ counterparts Holmes-Martin and Brown came home 13th and 19th respectively.
The results of the Japanese regattas will clearly have an influence on the decisions of the RYA’s selectors, but, as with all things in sailing, nothing is guaranteed. The British Olympic Association will announce its first team members on October 1. Will any windsurfers be on the list? You’ll have to wait and see..
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