Three talented young Scots, each with 2016 Rio Olympic Games aspirations, return to the waters this week where they began their international careers when Largs hosts the 470 European Championships (Thurs 28 June – Wed 4 July).
The Royal Yachting Association is hosting the Championships at Largs Sailing Club, supported by UK Sport, EventScotland, North Ayrshire Council, the Scottish Sailing Institute, sportscotland, the International 470 Class Association and RYA Scotland.
David Kohler (22, from Edinburgh), who sails the two person 470 dinghy with England’s Phil Sparks; Anna Burnett (19, from Helensburgh) and her crew mate Flora Stewart (20, from Edinburgh) are all competing in the event which has attracted 56 leading crews. Eleven teams will go straight from Scotland to represent their nations at the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition.
It was these same Clyde waters that built the racing skills of the young Scottish trio who have since graduated to the less-rugged Olympic venue of Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy.
Returning to Largs will be nostalgic for them but past experience of competing at the west coast venue will not necessarily give them an advantage over the rest of the fleet which began arriving at the weekend.
“I've been sailing off the island of Cumbrae ever since I was in the Scottish squad, and we have spent many a winter's day there training,” said Bath University Flora Stewart, who at 12 was a late comer into sailing, encouraged after her father raced the Atlantic in the Global Challenge.
“These are our home waters and it is really very special to have a major sailing event here. Although I'm not sure we will have much of an advantage because the waters are quite tricky, and the wind conditions are very changeable.
“But I think we will feel a lot more comfortable knowing that we are the home country and probably more relaxed here than other competitors.”
In sailing terms Stewart’s four year partnership with Burnett, who comes from a lengthy dynasty of west coast sailors, is both long and successful. The pair, close friends on and off the water, were bronze medallists at the Junior World Championships in January and runners up in last year’s European Junior Championships.
Kohler, who like the girls has ironically never sailed his 470 dinghy in Scotland, and spent Sunday towing it up from his Weymouth training base, has been equally successful in the sport, finishing fourteenth in last year’s European Championships and winning bronze in the under 21 World Championships.
This week the Scots are youngsters in a field of top senior competitors, nine 2012 Olympic crews in the men’s, including reigning European Champions, Croatians Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic, who placed fourth in the recent Skandia Sail for Gold regatta, run by the RYA at the Olympic venue, Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy,. There are two Olympic crews in the women’s event at Largs.
Although that means the pressure is not on the Scots they are not predicting the outcome or giving anything away to their opposition.
“The aim for the first part of the week at Largs will be to get through the qualifying stages and get into the top 10 medal race,” said Kohler, who having finished his degree at Edinburgh University this month is technically now a full timer competitor. “Then after that we’ll see how it goes.
Whilst the 2016 Rio Olympics is their ultimate aim, at this stage of their careers, fine tuning race processes, like teamwork are just as important as the outcome for the Scots who have been making full use of the Olympic venue in Weymouth this summer.
“We are still technically juniors,” said Anna Burnett. “It's a lot more competitive in the older age groups, a different ball game completely and it’s more about who makes the fewest tiny mistakes at the moment.
“We have been training at the Olympic venue in Weymouth and get exactly the same access as those who are competing in the Olympics this year. It’s very beneficial and also just being in the same work environment as those athletes is a real inspiration. This week will be a really good experience to race with the top sailors.”