Olympic dreams still within reach at Asian qualifiers

ILCA 6 sailors competing in the 2023 Asian Sailing Championships being held at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya. (Photo by Saksiri Subying)

PATTAYA, Thailand – With only four races to sail before the medal race, a palpable sense of opportunities yet to be grabbed hung in the air as results rolled in at the end of racing on Day Three of the 2023 Asian Sailing Championships being held at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, Thailand. Most medals are still undecided, fleet leaders in all but one of the six classes insecure, mixed results and point spreads too close to confidently call, and another discard and the medal race ahead.

Only in the 470s and Nacra 17 fleets are the Chinese likely to take gold and a highly coveted ticket to Paris 2024. In the 470s, Ming Xu and Yahan Tu sit at six points net, their nearest non-Chinese competitors, the Malaysians, at 21 points. In the Nacra 17, where nine Chinese teams fill out the fleet of 12 boats, Singaporeans Justin Lui and Denise Lim won the first race of the day, but finished 10th in the second, ending sixth overall with 29 points. Chinese hold the top five positions on the leaderboard, the team of Huancheng Zhao and Ting Yu first overall with 15 points.

Thai brothers Don and Dylan Whitcraft hiking out on their 49er.(Photo by Saranya PIX)

In the 49er class, Chinese duo Zaiding Wen and Tian Liu held onto their overall lead after a win in race eight. They go forward with four first-place finishes in the regatta, but no other race finishes in the top five. India’s Prince Noble and Manu Francis won the seventh race, slipping into second overall, just five points behind the Chinese. The Thai team of Don and Dylan Whitcraft who won two races on Thursday scored a second-place finish in race seven but then failed to make room while on port tack approaching a mark in race eight. The result: they now sit sixth overall and carry forward a disqualification and two results in the bottom half of the fleet, ending at 50 points to the fleet leader’s 27 points.

In the 49erFX, Singaporeans Kimberly Lim and Cecilia Low were unable to crack the overall lead held by China’s Xiaoyu Hu and Mengyan Shan, who have 14 points to the Singapore’s 25. Two Japanese teams did sneak past the Chinese to score two wins and a second-place finish today, however, and Hong Kong a second-place finish as well.

In the ILCA 7, the next few days will be particularly tense. Hong Kong’s Nicholas Halliday maintains his lead with 11 points net, India’s Vishnu Saravan, Thailand’s Arthit Mikhail Romanyk, and Malaysia’s Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy at 18, 19, and 20 points net respectively. Halliday and Saravan showed vulnerability in race six, slipping to fourth and eighth across the line, with Afendy taking the win and Romanyk showing a consistency in the top five that keeps him in contention for one of the two tickets to Paris 2024.

49er sailors – Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (Photo by YRAT)

In the ILCA 6, China’s Min Gu and Dongshuang Zhang lead with 13 and 17 points net but Thailand’s Sophia Montgomery won her second race of the regatta, ending the day with 20 points net. Her closest rivals for the second ticket to Paris in the fleet, should she not be able to best the Chinese, are Hong Kong’s Stephanie Norton and India’s Nethra Kumanan, tied at 25 points to Sophia’s 21.

470s – Yacht Racing Association of Thailand

The regatta represents the last Asian-only qualifying event, with two tickets each available in the ILCA 6 and 7 classes, and one ticket each in the 470, 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 classes. A total of 194 sailors are racing. Among the 17 Asian nations eligible to qualify, China has fielded the largest contingent of sailors, with 33 boats including entries in each event at the regatta. In the Nacra 17 class, nine Chinese entries are to take on only two Indian and one Singaporean boats. Korea is represented by 22 sailors, including eight in the ILCA 7 class and six in the 49er. Thailand’s strongest showing is in the ILCA 6 and 7 classes, with five entries in each. Only four sailors hail from countries ineligible to qualify.

The first day of racing, an unexpected wind shift right and a strong windward current tested sailors, resulting in some notable swings in results at the top of most fleets.

The second day of racing results were impacted by decisive sailing, discards and disqualifications. In steady wind of 7-8 knots building to 11-12 knots, the Thais saw siblings reach top performances in two fleets, the Malaysians stuck stakes in the leaderboard of another two fleets, while the Chinese offset disqualification in three fleets with enhanced leads in three other fleets.

Thai ILCA Sailor Arthit Romanyk -THA Laser (Photo by YRAT)

The third day of racing saw positions on the leaderboard continue to move. A day of rest followed. The fourth day of racing begins on December 17, with four more races to be sailed before medal races on December 19.

The 2023 Asian Sailing Championship and Asian qualifier for Paris 2024 is organized by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand and the Royal Thai Navy, with the support of World Sailing and the Asian Sailing Federation. Sponsors include the Sports Authority of Thailand, Chonburi Province, and Pattaya City. The event is hosted at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, its third major event in the past  year, after organizing the ILCA Asian and Oceanian Championships and ILCA Masters World Championships.
For results, see https://www.pattaya-olympic-qualifier.com/results/