Ambitious kitefoil athletes have had to reset their approach to top-level competition in the face of a new set of challenges since national mixed team racing was chosen as an Olympic discipline for the Paris 2024 Games.
In what has until now been an essentially-individual sport, Formula Kite relay racing that will feature when kiteboarding makes its historic debut at the XXXII Olympiad’s Marseille sailing venue demands a fresh mindset.
For Formula Kite veterans and ingenues alike, the mixed discipline is an exciting and intriguing breath of fresh air that adds an unexpected layer of complexity to already tricky windward-leeward racing on stratospherically-quick hydrofoils.
But as elite racers at the 2019 Formula Kite Asians in Beihai, China, gathered to trial the new format—whereby the teams of one man and woman each complete one lap of a “short-track” course, with a “flying” handover—the wind refused to play ball and racing was cancelled.
One day of the six scheduled for the regatta had been set aside to give athletes a chance to practise and International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) officials an opportunity to refine the format. It was to have been only the second international outing after the first test at the World Championships in Lake Garda, Italy, last month.
Still, Formula Kite Asians’ leader Denis Taradin (RUS) remains completely sold on the mixed team relay format after his experience in Garda, taking the third podium spot when he teamed with former world champion Elena Kalinina.
“It’s so different from the racing we usually do,” said Taradin. “It brings veterans like me fresh energy, fresh juice. I’ve been competing for years and the top ten are always the same. Now it’s a whole new field. When either the man or woman’s in front, it changes everything and brings lots of emotion. It’s so much fun. What changes is that you can share secrets.”
For the Beihai trial, Taradin had by coincidence teamed with the women’s fleet leader, Poland’s Magda Woyciechowska, 14. She was thrilled by her experience in Garda when the level of teamwork needed and the importance of a seamless, split-second handover became obvious.
“All the guys were finishing at nearly the same time and there were many orange Ozone kites, so it was tricky to spot my partner Blazej Ozog coming so we could make a quick changeover,” said Woyciechowska. “We only had about one day to practise, but still we got 10th overall, which was OK.”
Her training partner, Julia Damasiewicz, also 14, took part in the first tests in Poland and teamed with Jakub Jurkowksi in Garda. She was delighted to win one race, beating a German team led by veteran former world champion, Florian Gruber.
“In one race we won against Florian Gruber, one of the best in the world,” said Damasiewicz. “In individual races we’re not as fast as we are when we’re together as a team. It’s hard to explain it. Perhaps he shares things that I don’t know, and vice versa.”
But beyond pure motivation and shared knowledge Sam Bullock (AUS), sitting fourth overall in the Asians, sees the potential for tactical match racing to assist a weaker team-mate.
“I think there might be an opportunity to match race in the pre-start phase to help your team-mate,” said Bullock. “It certainly adds another element. But I think the most important bit of the teamwork might be working with your partner to get them up to speed. The gaps between the women in Garda was far larger than the men and had big bearing on the outcome.”
Top five men after 16 races (three discards)
1 Denis Taradin (RUS) 14pts
2 Mario Calbucci (ITA) 30pts
3 Ejder Ginyol (TUR) 37.6pts
4 Sam Bullock (NZL) 45pts
5 Lukas Walton-Keim (NZL) 55pts
Top five women after 16 races (three discards)
1 Magdalena Woyciechowska (POL) 22pts
2 Julia Damasiewicz (POL) 32pts
3 Natalie Flintrop-Clarke (AUS) 41pts
4 Jingle Chen (CHN) 44pts
5 Benyapa Jantawan (THA) 57pts
Full results: http:/www.formulakite.com