The Nederland World Champion 49erFX sailing duo Odile van Aanholt and Annette Duetz absolutely smashed it at the World Sailing Olympic Summer Games Paris 2024 Test Event – which was held in Marseille, France, concluding on Sunday.
If you were to judge only by the results table, this looks like an easy win for our sponsored sailors whose partnership has already notched up a string of Gold and Silver medals. But appearances can be deceptive.
Let’s start by taking a look at that impressive scorecard :
There were 13 races with 23 competing boats. Odile and Annette – who won their Gold medal with a 30 point lead separating them from their nearest rivals in the Brazilian boat – chalked up the following finish-line places over the five-day event: 1,1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,6,6,6, a 13th place and a 21st place result.
Talking to them about their win, what’s striking is the honesty and humility they bring to the start line.
Conditions were windy for most of the event – so a capsize was only ever one mistake away. Large waves driven onshore by the mainly southerly wind to which Marseilles is exposed caused confused seas as the approaching swell was refracted by some islands close offshore, with the result that the waves were arriving from two directions at once.
And the trouble wasn’t only out at sea – launching their skiff one morning for the days’ racing, a sudden wind-shift caught Odile and Annette by surprise and capsized them so close to the shore – just as they had climbed on board – that there wasn’t time to right their craft and sail out of trouble. Only the speedy intervention of the safety boat kept them from wrecking on the beach and ending their event.
Odile and Annette, who have so many year’s experience of the 49erFX, found the near-wreck experience quite scary with the result that their mindset was to be cautious in the windy conditions during their competition sailing …an approach which is least likely to win races! It’s also a bad strategy when upholding your title as World Champions!
But one of the strengths of the sailing duo and team coach Kaj Böcker is their honest communication with each other – no pretending. That philosophy, coupled with their enduring ambition to win, sets the stage for constant renewal so that as soon as the next race begins, any past tension is broken.
The strength of their communication healed another disaster, early in the competition, before it could set them on a losing streak:
On Day Two they lost the first race in spectacular style – they came over the line in last place! That was an entirely new experience for Odile and Annette, and not one they wish to repeat ….!
They began the race on a starboard tack as did all but two of the fleet, but it soon became obvious that conditions favoured a port tack. Many vessels turned but, at first, Odile and Annette decided to stick with their decision and hope that it ‘came right’. They turned in 8th position at the buoy, deciding to break away to the left for the downwind leg sailing into clean air and clear water – being the only vessel to do so.
That decision helped them climb up the board to make their second turn in 4th place …but then it all went wrong: choosing a starboard tack once again with the wind still unfavourable a decision to turn to starboard to make gains had to be delayed until the New Zealand competitor on their inside turned first. By that time they’d dropped to 17th position round the buoy.
And just when things could scarcely get any worse, a flaw in the wind shift on the downward leg forced an early gybe. They turned off that lane too soon to make the finishing gate – forcing two more sail changes, and seeing them arrive over the line in last position, as mentioned.
It was a stunning defeat which they found both humbling and embarrassing.
Being the first race of the day, it threatened to spoil their performance for the race of the day – or indeed, event – if they couldn’t snatch back their former confidence. But they know just when to hold the right conversation, and having agreed between themselves that we’re better than this …went on to explode back on form and take two firsts in the next two races!
It’s not only about the conversation – their tactical and mechanical skills are acute. They aim to make great starts, to hold and dominate their chosen lane, to arrive fast and furious at the turns …where taking the kite down early – not late – allows them to make choices without the risk of capsize – whilst those who take their kites down at the very last moment can only ‘respond’ to the changes around them.
It’s always breathtakingly exciting to follow our sponsored sailors as they fight their way to the podium in competition – we’re very proud of them and their team for always aiming to be the best they can be!
Brazil, as mentioned earlier, took Silver and Sweden claimed Bronze.
Their next event takes place on their home territory in Scheveningen, in The Hague, Nederlands, on August 11th, at which the Olympic team selection will be made. The team are really looking forward to showing what they can do at that event as it will decide whether both their team, and their country are taking part in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. No pressure then.