The Mixed Multihull (Nacra 17) will make its Olympic debut at Rio 2016 and a fast, furious, wild ride could be on the cards for the 20-boat fleet in Brazil.
When the wind and waves are up, the Nacra 17, the fastest Olympic boat, flies around the race course and sometimes, literally. Physically demanding, the Nacra 17 can often be a wild beast to tame but for the 40 Olympic athletes in the 20-boat fleet they make it look easy. In fact, the Nacra 17 is only one of three sports where men and women compete on a field of play directly against each other for a single team, the others being Tennis and Badminton.
Racing commences on Wednesday 10 August at 13:00 local time on the Pao de Acucar racing area and the fleet is packed full of exceptional sporting talents, Olympic medallists and World Champions.
France’s Billy Besson and Marie Riou have dominated the Rio 2016 Olympic quadrennial, winning all four of the World Championship titles along the way, the first time this feat had been achieved in an Olympic cycle. That was until Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) did it the same day in the 49er.
The impressive haul of world titles ensures that the French, and Kiwis, enter Rio 2016 marked as favourites in their respective fleets.
Besson will be making his Olympic debut in Rio but for Riou, it will be her second after sailing in the Women’s Match Racing event at London 2012. Olympic familiarity is often invaluable and athletes across all sports can sometimes be overcome by the scale of it all but that does not seem to be the case for the French duo.
“Together we have experience,” explained Riou, “Billy is the king of the catamaran and I bring my knowledge from all the disciplines of sailing that I have practiced. If we can be in harmony, this will give us a little bit more compared to our opponents.
“The Olympic Games is the grail; it is the final outcome of an Olympic project. Following the first world title, we started to think it was possible and then months passed by at breakneck speed.
“Today we have four world titles and the story is not over yet.”
Besson added, “We have to go for a performance. I struggle to realise everything we have achieved since the start. We are in our element, we do what we love and what we can do. Our goal is to continue our momentum and clinch the most beautiful medal in Rio.”
Besson and Riou won gold at the first Olympic Test Event in 2014 but they came undone in 2015, losing out to Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) who showed their worth on Olympic waters.
The Australians have consistently been at the front of the fleet since and have confidence, “My goal is to execute my peak performance which I firmly believe is gold medal worthy,” explained Waterhouse. “Managing the environment and pressures of such a pinnacle event, I think, is not a threat to us.
“I see it more as an opportunity to make better gains over my competitors. We have a strong, competitive fleet. My top picks are France, Denmark, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands who are medal contenders.
“I am looking forward to embracing the fierce competition with them.”
Darmanin added, “Based off the past results the French team is probably the biggest threat but you can’t rule any one out in this fleet, we have many past medallists and Olympians from other classes that are now racing the Nacra 17 so there is a lot of depth in the fleet and it’s going to be a close week of racing.”
The road to an Olympic Games in sailing is a four-year process, combing numerous World Championships, Sailing World Cups and Continental Championships but the final few months is always critical in a sailor’s preparations.
Spain’s Fernando Echavarri and Tara Pacheco have hit the right note in the last few months to build up to Rio after partnering up towards the end of 2014. They claimed gold at Sailing World Cup Hyeres in a competitive fleet earlier this year and are now viewed as contenders.
“We are well prepared,” said Echavarri. “We have been testing all the equipment and everything is fine, we just need to adjust some little details. Our preparation hasn’t been that long, that’s why our progression has been from less to more and now we arrive at Rio 2016 in our best shape.
“Our idea is to be in the fight, we are very happy and we are keen to race. What’s sure is that we are going to give it our all, as ever.”
Further contenders include Argentina’s two-time Olympic medallist Santiago Lange sailing with Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG), Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank (AUT), Allan Norregaard and Anette Viborg Andreasen (DEN), Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves (GBR), Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning (NED), Gemma Jonas and Jason Saunders (NZL) and Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger (SUI).
The Pao de Acucar racing area will host the first Nacra 17 races on Wednesday 10 August at 13:00 local time. Racing will conclude on the same racing area with the Medal Race onTuesday 16 August.