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Six Olympic dinghy places claimed by emerging nations

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Six of the eight men’s and women’s dinghy Olympic places on offer at the Last Chance Regatta were claimed by sailors supported by the World Sailing Emerging Nations Program on a rain-soaked final day of qualification at the Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères.

The six brought the overall number of Emerging Nations Program (ENP) sailors who will be heading to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to 21, a rise from eight at the Tokyo Olympics three years ago.

In the women’s dinghy ILCA 6, event winner Ebru Bolat (main image above) had already earned an Olympic spot for Romania before today’s medal races and she was joined in the select group who will be heading to Marseille by Cyprus’s Marilena Makri and Nethra Kumanan of India, all three of whom have benefited from ENP coaching. Lin Pletikos of Slovenia also claimed an Olympic place today.

Meanwhile in the men’s dinghy ILCA 7, Estonian Karl-Martin Rammo and Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy of Malaysia were sure of qualifying a place before today’s event but their fellow ENP-backed athlete Enrique Arathoon of El Salvador joined them in earning a country place in a competition won by South Korea’s Jeemin Ha.

The World Sailing Emerging Nations program aims to close the performance gap between countries competing at international level, as well as helping to increase the number of nations attending who may not normally be able to send sailors due to coaching or budgetary restrictions.

Heavy rain had fallen all day on the south coast of France but there was no dampening the enthusiasm of the lucky few who knew they had done enough to qualify a place for their country at the Olympics.

Bolat was thrilled after bouncing back from a disqualification on the second day to become Romania’s first woman to earn a dinghy place at the Olympics.

“It was a very long week, you have to push every race. I started very well and then I had a terrible day,” she said. “I made a terrible mistake and it cost me a lot, but I told myself: ‘It’s a mistake you can recover from, just keep sailing, you’re a fast sailor and results will be what they will be.’”

Bolat revealed she has been working on her mental toughness since a difficult final day at January’s ILCA 6 World Championships in Argentina.

“I’ve worked a lot on my mental preparation since the Worlds in Argentina where on the last day I couldn’t manage the pressure,” she added. “I knew it was one of the biggest things I had to improve, and I’m very happy with how I kept focused. Even after the disqualification, I just kept pushing through and nothing was going to stop me.”

Makri, headed for her second Olympics after qualifying for Tokyo as an 18-year-old, shrugged off the wet conditions, saying: “It was a bit stressful, but I was confident because I’ve done it before.

“It was not difficult today – the last two days were difficult because it was super windy and I’m lighter than the other girls, but I’ve qualified for the Olympics and that’s it.”

Mohd Afendy, who is headed for his fourth Olympics, said: “I think this was one of the longest weeks of my life. I managed to qualify – and I have no words to describe it. I’m so happy and this is also for my family back home.”

Arathoon, the only person to have represented El Salvador in sailing at the Olympics this century having competed in Tokyo and Rio, was also relieved.

He said: “It’s been a little bit of a whole campaign for me, just what’s happened this week. There have been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of testing of my faith and my concentration, but I just kept fighting until the last race.”

In the mixed dinghy 470, Türkiye claimed the last remaining Olympic spot on offer here, thanks to the efforts of Deniz Cinar and Lara Nalbantoglu, to go along with those already taken by Italy, Slovenia and Greece.

The Italians claimed the top two places in the competition and have yet to make their selection for the Olympics, but Giacomo Ferrari and Alessandra Dubbini may feel their first place here puts them ahead of second-placed Elena Berta and Bruno Festo.

Both skiff events have seen fierce competition in Hyères, and the men’s skiff 49er concluded with Hong Kong, China claiming the last of the four Olympic qualification spots on offer following Akira Sakai and Russell Aylsworth placing seventh.

Sakai and Ayslworth’s hard work means their country joins Germany, Belgium and Brazil in taking a last-chance Paris 2024 ticket.

In the women’s skiff 49er FX, the qualifying places were already decided with Poland, Germany, Finland, Japan and Czechia all making sure they can select athletes for the Olympic Regatta.

The medal race saw Polish duo Aleksandra Melzacka and Sandra Jankowiak complete a dominant week by finishing top ahead of compatriots Gabriela Czapska and Hanna Rajchert.

In the mixed multihull Nacra 17, there were still two of the four Olympic qualifying places on offer and one of them went to Belgium, who placed two boats in the top four with Lucas Claeyssens and Eline Verstraelen finishing third, and Arthur de Jonghe and Janne Ravelingien coming fourth.

The other place went to Japan after Shibuki Iitsuka and Oura Nishida Capiglia’s fifth place. The event was won by Danish pair Natacha Violet Saouma-Pedersen and Mathias Bruun Borreskov who led from the front all week while Türkiye’s Alican Kaynar and Beste Kaynakçi were second.

Main image © Sailing Energy / Semaine Olympique Française