|Thailand’s top young sailing stars|
Since SEA Yachting featured Thai sailor Kamolwan Chanyim in its July-August issue, the 18- year- old has kicked her Rio 2016 Olympic campaign into full gear, the clock already ticking for her and other Olympic hopefuls.
With the generous support of sponsor Kingdom Property, she has sailed in international regattas in Cyprus, Spain and two in China, participated in two high performance coaching programs, earned a chance at gold at the SEA Games by winning ten out of 12 races in the final Thai selection trials, and has her eyes on a medal at the Oman Laser Radial Youth Worlds which will be sailed over the new year holidays.
The SEA Games 2011 silver medalist had been singled out for a podium finish at the Sail First ISAF Youth Worlds 2013 in Cyprus in July, but a year out of international competition set her back amid intense competition and challenging wind conditions. She placed 16th, with three finishes in the top 10, including a third in which she led gold medalist Line Flem Host of Norway to the first mark. She was not the only repeat contender disappointed with her results, but she was the strongest Asian contender in the fleet of 40. China's Wang Yajie finished 26th, Hong Kong's Sofia Marie Mascia 29th, Japan's Midori Tada 30th, and Korea's Jia Kim 32nd.
"I won valuable experience and insights into what I need to do to reach my goals," said Kamolwan, who was part of the selective ISAF Athlete Participation Program coached by Hugh Styles of the World Youth Sailing Trust. "Because it had been a year since my last big international regatta, I lost my confidence and didn't trust my instincts."
After sailing in the Hua Hin Regatta in August, where she was the top female sailor, Kamolwan accepted a special invitation to participate in Phase II of the ISAF Emerging Nations Program (ENP), a 10 day high performance sailing camp in Spain at the venue that will host next year's first Olympic qualifying competition, Santander 2014.
The ENP provides high performance training for potential Olympians from smaller sailing nations, including medical and fitness tests, intensive instruction in physical fitness and sports psychology, and ongoing top level coaching. To be invited is an honor, as the ENP's Dr Carmen Vaz explained, "We had to be able to say 'this girl can go somewhere'."
In the attached Santander 2014 Test Event, also called the Cuidad de Santander Trophy 2013, Kamolwan finished 14th, with three top ten finishes including a fifth in her final race. Japanese Manami Doi took gold, her countrywoman Sakoyo Harada finished 11th, and fellow ENP member Malaysian Khairunneeta Mohd Afendy, 12th.
After the event, Kamolwan expressed her deep gratitude to sponsors and organizers for including her in the ENP. "I gained a lot of knowledge especially in sailing tactics and exercise," she said. "In the strange conditions - light, shifty winds and unusual swells of one meter with wind-driven waves moving in the opposite direction - I realized I can't sail there the way I learned in Thailand."
As coach Ruben Moran of the Spanish Federation of Sailing put it, "You can be the best in your country and your region, but without coaching, you won't know how to improve your performance for top level international regattas."
At the Laser Radial Women's World Championship in Rizhao, China, in early October, Kamolwan proved she had been listening, consistently planning and executing strong starts and employing tricks learned on downwind legs in swell. She finished 12th in the silver fleet, 51st overall, in her most competitive regatta of the year. The only other Southeast Asian sailor in Rizhao, Singaporean Olympian Elizabeth Yin, finished 46th overall; Kamolwan beat her in half the 12 races, finishing 4th twice and 6th once in the silver fleet.
A week later, Kamolwan sailed in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao, the first Asian leg of the prestigious series, where she beat all three Malaysians, setting the stage for an exciting SEA Games in December.
"None of this training would have been possible without the support of Kingdom Property," she gratefully acknowledged. "Going into the first Olympic qualifier in 2014 and the second in 2015 requires I build a strong foundation now, that I get the international experience and coaching early on, so that, with the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand's blessing, I can plan for the next three years in order to make Thailand proud."
Kamolwan has since been invited to Phase III of the ENP and she has drafted a 2014-2016 Olympic strategy including at least five international regattas a year, professional coaching, and fitness training. Additional sponsorship is being sought to finance her campaign, details available from The Sponsorship Experts (www.paulpoole.co.th)Olympic Qualification Schedule Changes for Rio 2016
The ISAF Sailing World Championships, the primary qualifying regatta for the Olympics, is usually held the year before the Games, at which 75% of national slots are awarded. For Rio 2016, however, they will be held a year early in Santander, Spain, in September 2014, and only 50% of national slots up for grabs. ISAF CEO Alistair Fox told us this is being done two years in advance of Rio to encourage high performance training through the four year period between Olympics.
The secondary qualifying regatta for the Olympics is usually the class world championship the year of the Games, but that will not be the case for Rio either. Instead, the remaining 50% of slots are expected be filled at continental regattas yet to be named, the International Olympic Committee eager to see an increase in the number of countries attempting to qualify. An official announcement regarding changes is expected in February.Other Thai Olympic Sailing Hopefuls
Siripon Kaewduang-ngam, RS:X Women
At the Santander Test Event in September, Youth Olympic Games 2010 gold medalist, Siripon, 19, proved she is ready to fill the space previously held by three-time Thai Olympian Napalai Tansai. She turned the heads of several Olympians and top female windsurfers as she finished 10th in the RS:X Women's division, moving into the top 50 ranked in the world. Ek Boonsawad, RS:X Men
Two-time Thai Olympian Ek, 24, placed 15th in the RS:X Men's division at the Santander 2014 Test Event, just short of his target, but the competition was intense, with Ek up against 14 Olympians including the 2012 gold and silver medalists, as well as the current world champion and five of the top ranked RS:X sailors in the world. He also sailed in the RS:X Brest Open Championships in July, finishing 20th, and in the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Hyeres in April, where he was 14th overall. In 2014, he and Siripon will compete in the Asian RS:X Championships in Singapore and hope to sail in two ISAF Sailing World cup regattas before Santander 2014.Keerati Bualong, Laser Standard
Since his first Olympics last year, sailing sensation Keerati, 21, has taken some time off, as is customary in the Laser. He joined the navy, sailing in only a couple of local regattas and one international regatta, Sail Qatar in October, where he took gold with ease. He represented Thailand at the SEA Games in December and is expected to enter qualifications in 2014 so expect to hear more about him next year.Noppakao Poonpat, 470 Women
When the very talented Noppakao, 18, won the gold medal in the Optimist World Championships in 2010, the world was watching. Now a pharmacy student at Burapha University, she is putting study first, but she sailed for Thailand in the SEA Games in December and a strong international comeback is expected once she decides how she would like to proceed with her sailing career.Don and Dylan Whitcraft, 49ers
The Whitcraft brothers, 18 and 17 respectively, spent much of the summer in Europe honing their skills in the 29er class. The highlight of their summer was winning a silver medal in the silver fleet of the 29er World Championship Regatta in Aarhus, Denmark, where they were 57th overall in a fleet of 213 boats. This was after placing 12th at Kiel Week in a fleet of over 100 boats. At the ISAF Youth Worlds in Cyprus, they placed 17th with three finishes in the top 10. While they are now focused on their studies, and Don is heading to university this year, they will be names to remember as future Thai Olympic sailing hopefuls in the 49er.Chusitt Punjamala, Byte CII (Youth Olympics)
Chusitt, 15, is a Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympics hopeful. He entered international competition for the first time this year, finishing an impressive 8th at Kiel Week, 59th at the Laser 4.7 Youth Worlds in Hungary, and 8th in the Byte CII World Championships in the US, where he missed out on qualification to Singapore's Bernie Chan among others. He will try again at the Asia Continental Byte CII Championships to be held in Langkawi, Malaysia, in February 2014.