New Kid In The Class 

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This time last year the Elliott 6m was a bit like the new kid in class – everyone wanted to know all about it but no-one was quite sure whether they liked it that much.

However since its Olympic Classes regatta debut at Kiel in June 2009 the Elliott 6m, and Women’s Match Racing, has been quietly winning over its new classmates to become one of the most competitive, unpredictable and exciting classes on the scene.  

The inclusion of Women’s Match Racing as a 2012 Olympic Class wasn’t a universally popular move, critics fearing it would limit the number of women globally who would be able to compete in the discipline while also voicing concern that having two types of sailing event in the Olympics – fleet and match racing - would actually confuse, and thus turn off, folk whose interest in sailing comes in four yearly cycles as opposed to opening their eyes to the sport’s diversity.  

In the face of this controversy, the Elliott was developed as the boat with the unenviable task of winning over the sceptics. But some 15 months, and eight ISAF World Cup outings later, the Elliott has been fully embraced by the World’s top women’s match racers who only have one thing on their mind; being able to make the boat go faster than anyone else in 2012.  

Britain’s Lucy Macgregor is one of those women and she admits it has been fascinating to be involved in the Elliott’s transition from gawky new kid to part of the in-crowd.  

She said: “To be honest at first we weren’t that enamoured with the Elliott. The rudder had stoppers which meant the boat wasn’t as manoeuvrable as the boats we were used to racing and because the boat has a pretty narrow keel, it goes sideways quite quickly when stalled making the match racing tactical game quite different; lots of moves you would normally do you couldn’t.  

“But it was really just about everyone getting used to the boat and discovering what its capabilities were and how you could push it to your best advantage and now we’re getting really fantastic close racing. Even after a year everyone is still working out how best to sail the boat as there is no perfect way, but that has made it really interesting.”  

Macgregor and her crewmates had been at the head of the leading pack even before the Elliott’s introduction while others teams making an impact include those skippered by Beijing 2008 Radial champion Anna Tunnicliffe (USA), Nicky Souter (AUS) and Claire Leroy (FRA).  

Britain was one of the first nations to acquire Elliotts last summer, giving Macgregor and co an early advantage in getting to grips with the boat but she feels the rest of the fleet has now caught up and they are all racing on an level terms.  

“We had a great winter’s training and were very strong in Miami in January where we finished second. We were very analytical in our approach at the start and made big gains on the rest of the fleet but by the middle part of the year everyone had improved and we started doubting some of the approaches we had taken and struggled a bit.  

“A lot of the teams had made big gains and we had to take stock of the things that would point us in the right direction while recognising those things that were simply a distraction. We stepped back up a gear and in the run up to Skandia Sail for Gold we were really pleased with how we were sailing.  Everyone is sailing the boat slightly differently but all are very quick and where we were making gains through boat handling in the early part of the year, we’re not making those gains so often.”  

Such is the closeness of the racing that Macgregor’s is the only team to reach the quarter-finals stages of all six rounds of the ISAF World Cup series contested in 2010 while there has been a different winner at each World Cup event.  

Amazingly despite being arguably the most consistent team throughout 2010, Macgregor, who has been ranked World number one since April, did not manage to convert that consistency into a World Cup event win.  

Macgregor says that 2010 has been a learning year for everyone as the sailors tackled a new boat and tactics, organisers got to grips with a new racing format and race officials adapted to the challenge of Olympic Classes match racing.  

Now the 23-year-old believes 2011 is going to be the critical year in making sure all those lessons are brought together to ensure a standardised competition format heading into London 2012.  

“The format’s the big area they need to work at now, there are a lot of races to get in and we need clear guidelines on things such as if we lose a day to weather what phase of the competition are we going to come back in to? They need to decide if it’s more important the top eight get all their races in or whether all 24 boats get some racing in the event of days being lost. Currently it varies from event to event. It’s never going to be straightforward, and you’re never going to please everyone, but ISAF have been working hard to try to come up with definitive guidelines and that’s positive.  

“Umpiring is also a bit of a work in progress; the sailors are out on the water everyday working hard and getting better and better but umpires can’t do that and at the moment the sailors are moving the game on more and more but some of the umpiring isn’t quite keeping up with that.  

“The sailors are being given a voice in how events are being run, which is great and Liz Baylis, who is the chair of the Women's International Match Racing Association, has taken a strong lead in trying to collect the thoughts of the competitors after events to move things on.”  

Despite having done most of their training in Elliotts this year, Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor (Lucy’s younger sister) will switch to the Sonar for the ISAF Women’s World Match Racing World Championships, which start in Newport, Rhode Island (USA) on Monday (20 September).  

The Worlds are the first of four events the girls will contest back-to-back in non Olympic Class boats between now and the end of the year and after a mentally intense season in the Elliotts, Macgregor is looking forward to testing her hand in different types of boats again.  

She insists Worlds glory would be another massive step in their 2012 preparations.  

She added: “Sail for Gold was our focus for the year but as soon as that was over we were straight into preparing for these Worlds. They may not be in Elliotts but the best teams in the World will be there and there are still a lot of tactical things that are very relevant to our Olympic campaign. Having not won an event in the Elliott this year, it’s our focus to get back into the winning mode and manage finals better than we have been, and that starts at the Worlds.”