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Top-class field ramps up excitement at Tokyo 2020 sailing test event

Most of the world’s main players in the sport came to Japan for the sailing test event, which has historically provided a fine dress rehearsal for eventual medallists.

The sailing test event for Tokyo 2020 took place in hot and humid conditions at Enoshima Yacht Harbour between 17 and 22 August – and, with a truly top-class field, it provided a very good indication of who might be in the running for medals next summer.

Five classes of race finished on Wednesday 21 August (49er, 49erFX, Nacra and RS:X – male and female), and five on 22 August (470s, Laser, Laser Radial and Finn).

Competing under the “Ready Steady Tokyo” banner, the vessels followed the same courses that will be used for the Olympic Games.

Among the 363 sailors competing were 30 individual medallists from Rio 2016 (including six gold medal winners) and 11 from London 2012. Sailing test events have recently been fairly reliable at indicating Olympic medals: 13 sets of medallists at the Rio 2016 test event got into the top three at those Games, while 18 sets of medallists at London’s test event went on to finish on the podium in 2012.

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Olympic champions Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kahena Kunze, from Brazil, won the 49erFX. It was an exhilarating contest, with all three podium positions changing after the end of fleet racing.

“We [kept] taking a little bit off each leg, and on the last one we managed to secure gold,” Kunze said. “Our target was just to be here, to get everything from the race areas, and get used to the climate and humidity.”

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand – who also got gold at Rio 2016 – won the 49er title. “This is a big one, being the Olympic test event, and definitely something you’re trying to perform well at,” Burling said.

“This is the only real practice we get at the right time of year, with everything as close as we can with what we’re trying to do in a year’s time. It’s pleasing to take a solid win here.”

China secured top spot in both RS:X windsurfing events. Gao Mengfan was victorious in the men’s class, while Lu Yunxiu led all week to ensure gold in the women’s, with Olympic champion Charline Picon of France having to settle for silver. Ruggero Tita and Caterina Marianna Banti of Italy won the Nacra 17.

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Light winds meant that four classes did not race on the sixth and final day of competition. Only the 470 women’s medal race went ahead, with French pair Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz taking gold.

“We are really happy to win here one year before the Olympics,” Lecointre said. “There was pressure for the medal race but very quickly we got in front and then we could breathe a bit more.”

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The Laser Radial medal race didn’t take place, meaning overnight leader Emma Plasschaert of Belgium pipped Olympic champion Marit Bouwmeester from the Netherlands to the title.

“I’m feeling really stoked,” Plasschaert said. “We’ve been working towards this event for the full year so it’s nice to confirm we’re on the right track.”

There was also no final-day race in the Laser fleet, meaning Jesper Stalheim of Sweden beat Rio 2016 gold medallist Tom Burton of Australia to first place.

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Australia’s Mat Belcher and Will Ryan, who got silver at Rio 2016, won the men’s 470 class. “It’s always pretty challenging to be able to put in a good performance on Olympic waters,” Belcher said.

“We are enjoying the conditions here. This week was different to the Worlds, and every day we are here during this period will be valuable in the long run.”

Zsombor Berecz of Hungary wrapped up gold in the Finn fleet. “It’s great to win any regatta, but the test event is special,” the 2018 world champion said.

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“We have a lot of work ahead of us but I would say if we don’t make any mistakes in the next year and everything goes to plan, then I will be happy and prepared for the Games.”

The event helped World Sailing and Tokyo 2020 to finalise their planning for the Olympic Games – from officials and volunteers to media operations and scoring technology, and for the race management team to test the field of play.

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