Ellie Aldridge and Riccardo Pianosi have won the first major senior titles of their Olympic careers at the 2023 Formula Kite European Championships in Portsmouth, England. The young Italian Pianosi has become the men’s European Champion at the age of 18, and the British rider Aldridge was a very popular winner in front of her home crowd on Eastney Beach in Portsmouth.
The south-westerly breeze was gusting up to 25 knots through the Solent for the 10-rider Medal Series and the waves were the biggest of the week. Along with the ever-present threat of seaweed to throw the riders off their stride, this was perhaps the toughest and most technical of all the varied conditions that the British weather has thrown at the fleet over the past few days.
After starting with 112 riders from 28 nations at the start of the six-day regatta, the final day of competition at a Formula Kite event is all about the top 10. The way the Medal Series format works, any of the remaining riders can still win the overall championship. Maxime Nocher from France and Jannis Maus of Germany successfully fought their way out of their respective semi-finals to line up in the four-rider final against the two Italians, Riccardo Pianosi and Lorenzo Boschetti.
Pianosi struggled to hit his stride in the first race of the final and it was Nocher who managed to put a win on the scoreboard. However the yellow-bibbed Italian made no such mistake in the next heat, leading for most of the two-lap course and celebrating with unbridled joy as he crossed the finish line. He punched the air and powered up his kite to launch more than 10 metres above the Solent.
“Grazie a tutti!” said Pianosi thanking his fans and family watching his victory on the livestream from back in Italy. “I caught some big seaweed in the first race and that made life difficult. I crashed three times but then in the second race I sailed perfectly and I won. It’s unbelievable, the best feeling in the world.” So a massive win for the ever-improving Pianosi ahead of Nocher who took silver and Boschetti who took bronze.
In the women’s competition Lily Young of Great Britain and Annelous Lammerts of The Netherlands won through from their semi-finals to join the yellow and blue bibs who had already earned their place in the finals, respectively Ellie Aldridge (GBR) and Poema Newland (FRA).
Aldridge looked well in control of the first race, stretching a huge lead on Lammerts with the other two riders well behind after suffering crashes on the ever-treacherous race course. Around the final slalom turning mark Aldridge was trying to keep things safe, but made it too safe as she struggled to maintain enough power in her kite through the gybe. Her kite helplessly fluttered to the water as Lammerts swept past for the race win.
After such an unforced error would Aldridge be able to maintain her composure? “I was trying not to think about what had just happened,” she admitted afterwards. “I remember what happened to Katie [Dabson, fellow British rider]”.
Poema Newland thought she had done enough for silver but the French rider hadn’t known about the on-the-water umpire decision that gave her a penalty for an infringement with Lammerts in the final race. So Lammerts was awarded silver for the best result of her career and Newland took bronze with Young in fourth place.
While Gisela Pulido hadn’t made it through from her semi-final the Spanish rider had done enough to qualify Spain for a place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games next summer. The same was true for Jannis Maus who, despite just missing out on a medal in the men’s final, was elated and relieved to have secured a place for Germany at the Olympic Games.
For UK Sport and the Royal Yachting Association, the Formula Kite European Championships also served as the centrepiece of a social and community engagement project for the people of Portsmouth, particularly those from deprived backgrounds.
Some kids who live less than two miles from the city waterfront had never set eyes on the sea before this week. One teacher remarked that they had never seen one of their pupils smile until this week. Around 300 children visited the Europeans and enjoyed their first experience of the wonderful world of kiting. It was a great reminder that elite sport isn’t just about winning medals at Olympic level, but can serve as an inspiration to others, simply to show how rewarding it can be to fly a kite and get wet learning and developing skills in watersports.
For some riders this is the opportunity to take a break and some rest from a long season of competition, but for others their next regatta comes along very quickly with Kitefoiling World Series Austria which takes place on Lake Traunsee from 4 to 8 October.