Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell admit a European Championship title in their first season together has given them a taste for more as they prepare for a first World Championship attempt next week in Porto (28 August-2 September).
The combined 49er and 49erFX World Championships will be the first major test of the post-Rio season for a number of skiff teams with aspirations towards Tokyo, and seven British Sailing Team 49er crews and four 49erFX pairings will be among those vying for Worlds honours in the waters off Matosinhos.
British sailors in the men’s and women’s skiff events have seen a strong start to the new cycle, with Fletcher-Bithell, James Peters-Fynn Sterritt and Charlotte Dobson-Saskia Tidey all racking up regular podium finishes on the international circuit this year.
And in spite of the sea fog which has dogged the Portuguese venue during pre-Worlds training, both Fletcher-Bithell and European silver medal-winning FX duo Dobson-Tidey have clear visions about their hopes for next week’s event.
Bithell is in confident spirits: “We are super excited to get the Worlds started. It's only our second major Championships together, the first of which was the European Championships three weeks ago which we won, so we are feeling good.
“We are the most consistent medal winners in the class at the moment and have been learning so much about each other and racing the 49er together that our strengths are getting better and areas for improvement [have been] addressed.
“This leads us to the high expectation of wanting to leave Porto as World Champions.”
For Dobson and Tidey, also in their first season together since teaming up after Rio, the regatta represents an opportunity to test themselves under pressure.
“The coming World Championships is our first outcome regatta together and because we are looking for a result we can hang our hats on it presents a subtle change in expectation, so we’re really looking forward to seeing how we react together in that situation,” Dobson explained.
“Win, lose or draw we’ll have a ground zero to work from towards gold in Tokyo.”
“All the big hitters will be out in force at this World Champs so it will be fab to see where we stack up against them all,” the Helensburgh sailor continued.
“A few of the teams who were around the back end of the top ten last cycle have hit this season really hard and are performing really well so it will be a really tough fleet to pick our way through. As it is the first year of the cycle teams are a bit polarised in performance across the wind strengths, so consistency could be the key factor if we get a mix of conditions.”
One thing is certain at these Championships – the 49er Worlds roll of honour will see a different set of names added for the first time since 2012 with the absence of New Zealand’s four-time winners Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.
“Our vision and our goals would stay the same anyway, but it does bring an element of excitement that there will be a new 49er World Champions,” said Bithell, adding that his coach Ben Rhodes was, alongside Stevie Morrison, the last British sailor to win a 49er World Championship, coincidentally also in Portugal in 2007. Fletcher won bronze at the 2016 event with Alain Sign.
After a European Championship silver (bronze in the Open fleet) in Kiel, James Peters-Fynn Sterritt will also have their sights on a strong Worlds performance, with young talents Jack Hawkins-Chris Thomas and Chris Taylor-Sam Batten keen to continue their progress after narrowly missing out on the Europeans top ten medal race positions.
In the 49erFX fleet, the British Sailing Team’s Kate Macgregor-Sophie Ainsworth, Sophie Weguelin-Steph Orton and Megan Brickwood-Eleanor Aldridge will also be competing at their first World Championships as new pairings.
World Championship racing in Porto gets underway on Monday 28 August with the medal races scheduled for Saturday 2 September.
Results will be available at http://49er.org/event/2017-world-championship/
Meanwhile at the Laser Radial World Championship in Medemblik, Alison Young has been fighting back after a difficult start to her title defence. She’s in 29th place overall after six races, picking up a U-flag starting penalty, but improving on Wednesday’s third day of competition with a 13th and a race win. Hannah Snellgrove was the top-ranked British sailor in 26th after six races. The regatta concludes on Saturday 26 August.
At the Finn Silver Cup – the World Championship for u23 sailors – Henry Wetherell and Hector Simpson occupy second and third places respectively after two races and two days of competition. The medal decider is on Sunday 27 August.
We’ll bring you updates via the British Sailing Team’s Facebook page
and Twitter feed @BritishSailing.
British Sailing Team line-up for the 49er/49erFX World Championships:
Dylan Fletcher-Stuart Bithell
James Peters-Fynn Sterritt
Jack Hawkins-Chris Thomas
Chris Taylor-Sam Batten
Gillies Munro-Daniel Harris
Morgan Peach-Rhos Hawes
James Grummett-Daniel Budden
Charlotte Dobson-Saskia Tidey
Kate Macgregor-Sophie Ainsworth
Sophie Weguelin-Steph Orton
Megan Brickwood-Eleanor Aldridge