©FFVoile / SailingEnergy
A flying return for the Semaine Olympique Française
The 53rd Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères - TPM opened in classic Côte d’Azur style on Monday with the world’s best rising to the strong winds through a field of 751 sailors from over 50 countries. It was like they had never been away.
After missing two years because of Covid, it was the most welcome and vivacious of returns for a venue and event that means so much to so many.Racing began at 11 in glorious sunshine, under cloudless skies and with strong offshore westerly winds of 15-20 knots. A choppy sea state, more so on the more the easterly courses with less protection from the bay and Îles d’Or, as well as wind gusts between 25-30, kept everyone on their toes. Both the world and sailing have changed since the last Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères in 2019. The 10 classes that will be contested in Marseille for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games were in Hyères - which is just 50 miles west down the coast - for the first time. And it was flight time for the five foiling classes on show.
First iQFOiL flyby
“We haven't seen the SOF for 3 years, it's great to have all the classes and it's a first regatta for the iQFOiL in Hyères - we've already done Marseille!” Hélène Noesmoen, France’s iQFOiL World and European Champion, said. Noesmoen confirmed her total dominance by winning all five of the races. Fellow Frenchwoman, Delphine Cousin, lies in second but it looked as if there were two separate races being run, Noesmoen and the rest.
France like the iQFOiL. Nicolas Goyard, who like compatriot Noesmoen is the World and European champion, but unlike her didn’t have it all his own way in the men’s event. He finished the day in second behind fellow Frenchman, Clément Bourgeois after their five races. Thomas Goyard, Nicolas’s older brother and silver medallist in the now replaced RS:X event at the Tokyo Olympics last summer is lying in fourth. “Today was a very windy day, I think we are all shattered; the triceps and the thighs have had a good workout,” Nicolas Goyard said. For my part, I didn’t have a single really clean race without a lot of mistakes. I stayed well placed, but I had the speed potential to do much better. But it's my comeback, it's been three months since my last regatta.”
Olympic champion quality
The quality of competition throughout the fleets was immediately demonstrated at the start of the day in the men’s ILCA 7, where Matthew Wearn, Australia’s Olympic champion, and Philipp Buhl, Germany’s 2020 World Champion, traded wins at the head of a lead group that dominated both races.
“Today was very very nice, I like Hyères and I prefer a windy Hyères to a soft Hyères,” Buhl, who has particular reason to have a soft spot for Hyères, said. “It’s a special place for me because it was my first junior European title in 2007, my first European Cup cup here in 2008, I did my first World Cup Medal Race here in 2009 and ten years ago, in 2012, I had my first ever World Cup win here - it’s quite funny to look at the results seeing Tom Burton, Slingsby - Matthew Wearn was in the fleet. So, I have some very good memories.”
Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti (ITA), Olympic champions, Nacra 17
“It was a very tough race because it was super strong wind. We managed to win at the end but I think we were all pretty close. The Australians were going very fast and surprisingly also the Dutch were super quick. We were all very close to the finish line.
The real Hyères came on for the racing, we were really happy and it’s what we’re used to over the years here. I came here in for the first time in 2010 or 2011. Our boats are kind of foiling so we’re super enjoying this flat water and strong wind.”
Matthew Wearn (AUS), Olympic champion, men’s ILCA 7
“Probably typical Hyères, nice offshore breeze of 15-20 knots, a few shifts close to shore, that made things a little tricky at times, big puffs so you couldn’t really relax when you were out in front, because you never knew what would happen on the downwind. It was a good day for me with a 2 and a 1, we’ll take that going into day 2.
Philipp Buhl, (GER) 2020 World Champion, ILCA 7
“I had two good starts. The first race was very nice, I was leading from the first mark to the finish, although it got really close on the last gate. I was on outer loop downwind and it was a little bit puffy to say the least. In the second race, I had a good start, but missed one big shift in the first part of the first downwind, lost a few of boats but got them back at the finish.
Matthew Wearn was in our group, he did a 2 and a 1. He almost overtook me in the first race. In the second he race he was a boat length ahead of me in second at the top mark. And Micky Bennett, who won the regatta in Palma, was also up in our group as well.
But the main goal in the first three days of this competition is not to have big scores. If you do 1,1 or 1,3 or 5,5, it’s all probably ok, you just want to keep your discard for the days before the finals.”
Hélène Noesmoen (FRA) World and European Champion, iQFOiL
“It went rather well for all the French women, in the early races; several times we had passages with 3-4 French women at the front, it was cool, I think everyone feels good here.
In the Mediterranean, you have a cross chop that may look familiar, but we are dealing with lots of on site effects, so it’s specific to each body of water and there will be everything to reset in Marseille. But in terms of settings we are close to what you can do in Marseille.”
Nicolas Goyard, who like compatriot Noesmoen is the World and European champion, iQFOiL
“It's a comeback but the speed is there, there is nothing to worry about for the future. It's the first SOF I've done with all the classes, it's funny. We are in our own universe on the beach and I go home in the evening, it allows us to stay focused. The level is increasing, the competitors are going fast, the settings are being refined...The week is going to be long with a lot of races planned. The competition is getting closer, the level is getting tighter.”